Tuesday, April 29, 2008

is your plumber a snitch?

Instapundit links to this story of the police breaking into a house because the guy who installed their water heater told police that he smelled something funny in the house. Now, why would a water-heater installer tell the police that he smelled something funny? Is this just an annoyingly civic-minded person who can't help butting into other people's business or is there more to it? Before I say what more I think there might be to it, let me relate an experience of mine.

I lived in Tucson for about twenty years. At the time, my parents lived in Phoenix and for about seven years my company had an office in Phoenix where I occasionally worked and business in Flagstaff north of Phoenix, so I must have driven I-10 from Tucson to Phoenix hundreds of times. Incidentally, this route is commonly known in the area as "the most boring stretch of highway in America", which is probably unfair to various stretches of highway in Nebraska and Oklahoma.

I speeded regularly --typically from ten to fifteen miles per hour over the speed limit, yet during those years and those tens of thousands of miles, I was only stopped twice --once for speeding and once for not having a license plate. But actually, I did have a license plate the second time; it was paper and was taped up in the window because I was driving a new rental car. Sounds like a pretty lame reason to pull someone over, right? Well, apparently it was just a pretext because I didn't get cited. In fact, it became apparent after a couple of minutes that the cop really just wanted an excuse to search my car.

Now, why would the cop have wanted to search my car? If they regularly pulled cars over on a pretext to search for drugs, I would have seen a lot more cars stopped along that stretch of highway and I almost never saw that. Somehow I was special that day. The only reason I could ever come up with is that I told the rental guy that I wanted a car with a big engine and told him that I was going to Flagstaff. There is a climb on I-17 between Phoenix and Flagstaff that is painful in a small-engine car. I've had cars that couldn't get above 60 on that grade. I think the rental guy called the cops and told them someone had just rented a car to carry drugs north from Tucson. Why would he do that? Certainly not on his own initiative --the cops must have previously spoken to him and asked him to keep his eyes open.

This story of the nosy plumber reminds me of that. Why would some water-heater installer want to get involved with meth heads? I think the cops had spoken to him and asked him to keep alert for odd equipment or funny smells.

I'm starting to suspect that the cops have a standard practice of talking to businesses and getting them to spy on their customers --not as part of an investigation but as a regular practice. I think they ask car rental places to help identify smugglers and people like electricians and plumbers to snitch out meth labs and marijuana farms.

Is this true? Anyone in that kind of business or in law enforcement who can confirm or deny?

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