An interesting story was published yesterday by a Tampa Bay news station. WTSP 10 News reports that drivers who try to pay the tolls with large bills are being illegally detained:
Meet Joel Chandler, who just paid his $1.00 toll on the Polk Parkway with a $100 bill, he is not allowed to leave unless he provides personal info to the toll taker. The toll taker tells Chandler this is what happens when they get large bills. She says this is what they have to do.
Chandler says to the toll taker, “So I’m being detained?” She says yes sir.
It is a policy the Florida Turnpike authority instituted for people who paid with $20, $50 or $100 bills. After it happened once, Chandler kept testing the system and taped his encounters as he went through the toll booths.
One time a toll taker told him, she wouldn’t give him his change unless he gave her the information. Chandler replied, “So I’m being detained.” He asked why he was being detained but never got an answer.
Chandler says this is a serious criminal offense, to detain someone without proper legal authority. He says that is exactly what the department is doing.
The Florida Department of Transportation said that there was no policy to detain drivers who pay with large bills, however:
[W]hen you look at the documents from the Florida Department of Transportation you see there was a policy change about detaining people who gave a 20 dollar bill. The Department decided to leave it up to the discretion of the toll takers to decide who was suspicious.
The courts have ruled that is unconstitutional, because it allows the preferences and prejudices of an individual to make the decision.
Chandler says 87 percent of the times toll takers took the time to fill out the form as to why they stopped someone. It was a racial description like, young black male, young black male, young Hispanic male.
This appears to be a pretty clear case of racial profiling. The DOT will likely argue that it’s a necessary step to stop people from passing counterfeit bills, but the records show that it’s an insignificant issue:
[I]n a 2 and a half year period the DOT got $16,000 in counterfeit bills, while at the same time it collected close to $2 billion in tolls ($1,523,825,404). The Department also spent $32,000 on forms used to catch the $16,000 in funny money.