“What was going on with the police officer a few minutes ago?” I asked the young couple to whom I had offered a ride on sunny but severely cold Saturday morning.
“Well, he said that we looked like juveniles, and he questioned us about being runaways,” explained the young woman, who told me her name is Ariel. “The thing is, I’m 22, and he” – Ariel gestured at the young man, whose name is Lee – “is nearly 21. We explained this to him, and told him we live right here in Payette.”
“The officer said it was unusual for a couple of young people to be walking outdoors on a cold morning like this,” Lee recalled, incredulous sarcasm coloring his words. “It’s not unusual for us to be walking; we walk around town all the time.”
Lee and Ariel are entrepreneurs who sell homemade peppermint bark on Etsy. They were hiking from Payette, Idaho to Ontario, Oregon to buy supplies, which are cheaper on the other side of the Snake River because Oregon doesn’t have a sales tax. (This is an inexplicable oversight on the part of that state’s otherwise omnivorous plunderbund.) I noticed them while giving a ride to another pedestrian who had about a four-mile stroll in zero-degree weather to get home from an overnight shift at a food processing plant. It seemed obvious to me that they were of college age; they were warmly dressed and appeared to be enjoying each other’s company. About a block later I saw a Payette Police Department cruiser, and made a bet with myself that its occupant would invent an excuse to harass the young people I had just passed.
After dropping off the first passenger I headed home – and discovered, to my weary disgust, that I had won the bet. The police car was pulled over to the side of the street, and the couple was standing on the sidewalk, shivering, while the officer was running their identification. I drove ahead block, made two left turns, and then parked about 150 yards away from the group in order to observe the stop, not knowing exactly what I would do if the situation deteriorated. A few minutes later, Lee and Ariel were allowed to go. So I drove by the officer and offered the couple a ride.
“It would have been nice if the cop was trying to be helpful, but I wasn’t about to ask him for taxi service,” Lee commented en route to Ontario.
As I mentioned, it was immediately obvious to me that Lee and Ariel were young adults, rather than juveniles — but what if they had been teenagers? Are we to assume that teenagers who are outdoors on a Saturday morning are up to no good? Like too many other towns, Payette has a formal night-time curfew for juveniles. Apparently, it has a double-secret daytime curfew, as well — or at least some local police officers seem to think so.
The officer wasn’t investigating a specific disappearance. This was a warrantless detention, conducted without probable cause or reasonable suspicion, and swaddled in an entirely implausible rationale – at least to anybody unwilling to pretend that there is something suspicious about a couple of cheerful young adults walking on a sidewalk in broad daylight.