For the payments geeks among us, transaction processing can be arresting. But in a bizarre twist, some police are doing both: arresting and processing payments and doing them both in the middle of a traffic stop on the side of the road. Will the familiar flashing-red-light refrain soon be “License, registration and Visa card, please?” In Oklahoma City, the answer might be “yes.”
This all comes from a bid request that started with the Oklahoma Department of Public Safety to a Fort Worth supplier named ERAD Group Inc., which specializes in payment offerings for law enforcement.
“In its original ‘solicitation specifications,’ DPS asked ERAD to ‘provide a fully functional solution that allows law enforcement to read and manage data (seize, freeze or return funds) from cards with magnetic stripes containing account numbers and cash balances at the time of contact,'” according to a report from the ACLU, which posted a copy of the contract bid along with a picture of the relevant section. “Designed to read the data contained on the magnetic strip on the back of a pre-paid debit or gift card, the ERAD reader can be plugged into a law enforcement officer’s laptop computer. That information, DPS officials said, can be used to fight drug trafficking and identity theft. The card reader program can be used as part of the state’s civil asset forfeiture program.”
To be clear, the vendor pushed back on the request and the state law enforcement entity conceded that a subpoena would be required and backed off on the request.
That all said, the concept is still very interesting. One phonecall to a judge can generate a court-order that would satisfy the legal requirements, something that can easily be done with officers sit in their car at the stop. Hence, that’s more of a detail than anything else.
The goal of the Oklahoma request involved civil asset forfeiture, which has had its own share of controversies. The idea of being able to empty a suspect’s bank account—a suspect who has yet been convicted of anything—by one officer at the side of the road at 2 AM is rather unsettling.
But civil asset forfeiture is the most controversial aspect. What if it was to simply pay a ticket? The officer asks “Do you want to fight this in court or are you prepared to plead guilty?” If they are prepared to plead guilty, what if they could say “You can fill out the paperwork and pay by check or via the site or the municipality will give you a one percent discount if you pay with me right here and now. We take Visa, MasterCard or PayPal. You can even Venmo me!”
In New Jersey and Illinois, of course, such a plan would have to add a bribe option, but that’s a trivial addition. It could be termed a gratuity.