Saturday, February 13, 2010

The One with Two Titles

This post could have easily had two titles. Since I like them both I’m going to let you decide.

Option 1: My Father the Terrorist

Option 2: Chinese Food is Explosive

This past week was our Biblical Counseling Training Conference at our church. A lot of my immediate family is involved in serving during the BCTC and attending it. As a result we usually try to get together for a meal with everyone one night during the week. This year my wife, mom, dad, uncle, cousin, grandpa, and grandma were all involved in the conference. Our kids were there too but they were doing their normal weekly school stuff.

My uncle, from Peoria, IL found out about this new Chinese Buffet that had opened near the church. Since we all enjoy that kind of food we decided to try it out. The food was good and we were having a great time when we noticed several police cars from the city of Lafayette pulling up in front of the restaurant. Thinking nothing of it we kept eating until a third office arrived from the Tippecanoe County Sheriff’s Department. My mom, getting up to get some more food, went to the window and noticed that they were looking in my dad’s van with flashlights.

To understand why that matters you have to understand my dad’s vehicle. He drives a 1988 vintage Ford Econoline cargo van. Its original color is white but due to the amount of rust it is hard to tell these days. It has a blanket hanging behind the driver and passenger seats to keep the front warm in the winter and is full of odds and ends in the back. It has a side window and two rear windows which is what the officers were shining their lights through to see what was inside.

After getting back from getting a bowl full of ice cream dad decided to go out and see what they were looking for. As he was getting his coat on one of the office came into the restaurant and asked if anyone owned the white van. Dad and the officer went outside.

Watching from the window we noticed that dad was letting them into the van. Finding that odd my uncle and I decided to get our coats on and go out to see what was going on. In Indiana it isn’t legal to search a vehicle without a warrant so I was surprised my dad was allowing them to poke around.

When we got outside we found out that the clothing store next door had been robbed a lot lately around closing time, 9pm. The thieves would pull up in a van, similar to my dad’s, and while the store clerks were locking the door to leave they would push them aside, grab a bunch of clothes, throw them in a van and drive off. So the store clerks seeing the van parked there called the police thinking it might be waiting to rob them when they closed. When the police showed up they noticed some items they viewed as suspicious in the van leading them to want to search it.

To understand this part of the story you have to know a bit more about my dad. He is a profession pyrotechnist. He launches fireworks, designs and tests fireworks, and trains others on explosives. The mild mannered chemist from Purdue is just a cover for the pyro inside. However, dad is also legal about all this. He has more licenses and explosive permits from more levels of government than I have Microsoft certifications. He has done training sessions for the local bomb squad and even took chemicals for making explosives across the US/Canada border for a ChemEd teaching conference he was invited to in Vancouver. Last year there was a deflagrating fire in a chemistry lab at one of our public schools and the Sheriff’s Department consulted with dad during the investigation. So, the fact that he had some electric igniters, an old cardboard box with diamond shape explosive decal, and other odds and ends in his van should be no surprise. The fact that he had all the paperwork for all that in his van should also be no surprise.

The tension came from the fact that dad believed procedurally they should have asked more questions and investigated his paperwork before searching. However the officers were determined to search. While dad initially refused giving them permission to search he grudgingly then gave permission considering how long the process would drag out waiting for the bomb squad to show up and waiting for a judge to issue a warrant. So dad, with nothing to hide allowed them to poke around. They found nothing of interest although they never asked to see further paperwork; they only saw dad’s hazmat endorsement on his license.

The bigger issue here is that suspicion by someone else caused a loss of privacy and liberty for my dad. I realize this is a much more complicated issue but here is a quote from my dad’s Twitter account that I think sums it all up:

“The greatest dangers to liberty lurk in insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well-meaning but without understanding.”

Again, I get how complicated this can be and I understand the threats of the world we live in however a citizen with all his ducks in a row, who has trained law enforcement on these very situations was himself subjected to a loss of liberty and privacy for doing it all the right way. One of the officers suggested that dad simply hide the stuff in plastic bins so that if someone does look inside they can’t see anything. The logic here fails me as while that removes the element of suspicion it doesn’t solve the real problem.

I think I’m going to drive around town with a fake foot hanging out from under a blanket in my backseat and see how long it is before someone suspects I have a body in there and calls me in for murder.

The next day dad called the sheriff and the sheriff called back. They have a meeting setup to review the case with the Sheriff’s Department as well as officers from the Lafayette Police Department. At issue is procedure and helping those men of zeal gain some understanding.

More on this story to come I’m sure.  Dad's biggest objection to all this was that his ice cream had melted by the time we got back inside.

Oh, and speaking of dad being a terrorist my grandfather (dad’s dad) actually is a terrorist. He is on the official terrorist watch list because of his name, Bob Smith. Apparently that is a common alias used by terrorist so grandpa can’t check in online for flights, gets all the extra screening, and now that he has a metal rod in his hip, well, let’s just say flying with him is fun.