When I was within 50 miles of Crestline, my friend Mike began picking me up at the end of the day in order that I might sleep in a warm bed instead of a cold corn or bean field along the road. In the morning, he would return me to the same spot and I would then continue east until evening. After dropping me off Sunday morning, November 7, I realized I had forgotten my wallet. Great, I thought - today I'll probably be stopped by the police with no identification. How correct I was!
It was a beautiful sunny afternoon when Officer Donnell of the Ohio Highway Patrol pulled over with his lights flashing to supposedly tell me that the highway ahead was limited access and as such, I would need to change my route (which I had already planned to do). He then asked for my identification. Explaining my situation, I told him that I did not have ID on my person which he found frustrating. He then asked for my social security number which I provided. Though it raises my blood pressure every time I am stopped by the police, all was well until before driving away Officer Donnell issued this threat - "I advise you to carry ID or you'll get a night of free room and board,” - meaning I'd spend the night in jail.
As I continued my walk I thought about that statement. Have we now come to this in our country? Do we as citizens have to walk around with identification or "go to jail." Not yet my friends - not yet. In the future we may all have microchips planted under our skin but for now, the Supreme Court has said that we only need identify ourselves to the police if requested - which I did.
My personality tends not to let a wrong go uncontested so later in the day, when picked up by Mike, I asked him to drive me to the Ohio State Patrol Office so that I could have a chat with the administration.
To make a long story short - I did just that. Being a slow Sunday evening the patrol office was manned only by a dispatcher to whom I explained my grievance and my desire to talk to someone about it. She was very nice and called an Officer Kinney with whom I might talk. Very politely I told the officer who I was, the purpose of my walk, and what had transpired. I also told him that I am keeping a blog and that I would publish his response to my inquiry. He was a very nice patrolman and agreed with me - YOU DO NOT HAVE TO CARRY IDENTIFICATION AND THAT THE OFFICER WHO ISSUED THE THREAT WAS INCORRECT AND SHOULD NOT HAVE DONE SO. I asked if the Ohio State Patrol made it a practice to stop cars at random and ask for identification. He replied that they do not. I then asked why I, as a pedestrian, had been stopped and asked for identification and he explained that any time an officer deals with a citizen directly it is important to know who they have dealt with. For example if a car is broken down and they stop to help, they need to know with whom they have interacted. Officer Donnell, having stopped to warn me of my limited options, then had a responsibility to ask me who I was for his records. Though I believe it was exactly the other way around - that the officer stopped me only to run an identification check - I allowed the explanation to pass without argument and left feeling vindicated.
A small constitutional victory.