|Hotel, Motel Workers Surveillance
Enlisted in N.J. Anti-Drug Effort
New Jersey state troopers have quietly enlisted managers and employees at dozens of hotels and motels along the New Jersey Turnpike in a program to catch drug smugglers. The initiative, known as the Hotel-Motel Program, has been in existence since the early 1990's and is modeled after a similar program in Los Angeles. The program's existence was made known to the public after hotel workers, upset by tactics they felt were discriminatory, complained to lawyers who subsequently notified reporters (David Kocieniewski, "New Jersey Police Enlist Hotel Staffs in Drug War," New York Times, April 29, 1999, p. A1).
Participating hotel managers acknowledge that they routinely allow troopers, without warrants, to page through credit card receipts and guest registration forms and to provide $1,000 rewards to workers whose tips lead to arrests. Such tips precipitate from training received at troopers' surveillance seminars, where front desk clerks, bellhops, and porters are taught to scrutinize guests to find the profile of traffickers, such as persons who ask for corner rooms, haul trailers, or frequently move from room to room ("Motel workers recruited to fight drugs," Chicago Tribune, April 29, 1999, p. 5).
New Jersey state police, who have been charged with targeting African-American and Latino motorists as drug couriers, admit that hotel personnel have aided them as informants, but deny that race is a profiling criterion. Lieutenant Bruce Geleta, commander of the state unit, refused to discuss the factors employees are taught to identify, stating that disclosure of such information would alert drug traffickers to law enforcement tactics. Regarding racial profiling allegations, Geleta said, "Believe me, these days, we're very careful not to do anything like that" ("Drug Cops Enlist Help Of Motel Workers," Sacramento Bee (CA), May 2, 1999).
John R. Hagerty, a spokesman for the state police, also declined to release the names or court docket numbers of persons who were prosecuted after being arrested by troopers involved with the project. Lt. Geleta said he would not provide a racial breakdown of those people he stopped, searched or arrested as part of the Hotel-Motel Program.
The program recently prompted sharp criticism after several hotel employees and union leaders reported that they were asked to take racial characteristics into account and to pay particular attention to customers who speak Spanish. David Feeback, president of Hotel and Restaurant Employees Local 69 in Secaucus, said a number of his members have complained about troopers pressuring them to participate and to report any patrons at hotels or restaurants who speak Spanish and make payment with large sums of cash. Some hotel managers reported that state troopers told them that the program's intent is to catch West Indians or Hispanics, particularly South and Central Americans.
The practice of using voluntary informants is legal. Many civil rights advocates and members of the hospitality and tourism industries say that this program raises privacy concerns. Lenora Lapidus, legal director for the New Jersey chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, said, "For the state police to be looking through people's credit card receipts and registration forms, and from what I understand, conducting surveillance on some of them, is just a gross invasion of privacy." Jan Larsen of the East Brunswick Hilton said, "We wouldn't allow the police to look through our records without a subpoena, period. . .We have an obligation to protect people's privacy. I would think there's a civil liability if we start giving out information."
Motel workers in Marana, Arizona are also enlisted in a police informant program. Detective Terry Evans of the Marana Police Department pointed out that by using hotels and rental cars, drug dealers have much less to lose if they are caught and their property is seized. He said that hotel workers are instructed to keep an eye on people arriving and leaving rooms, and "If someone has made 30 calls within a 24-hour period, then police need to be alerted" (Carmen Duarte, "Police And Motels Join In Fight Against Drugs," Arizona Daily Star, June 2, 1999).
Lieutenant Bruce Geleta - NJ State Police, Hotel-Motel Program, 2 Squirrelwood Road, West Patterson, NJ 07424, Tel: (973) 881-1226, Fax: (973) 881-0961.
David Feeback - Hotel and Restaurant Employees Local 69, 1 Harmon Plaza, 6th Floor, Secaucus, NJ 07094, Tel: (201) 330-1222, Fax: (201) 330-0216.
Lenora Lapidus - New Jersey American Civil Liberties Union, 35 Halsey St., Suite 4B, Newark, NJ 07102, Tel: (973) 642-2086, Fax: (973) 642-6523, E-mail: <email@example.com>.
John R. Hagerty - Communications Director, Division of State Police, Office of Public Information, P.O. Box 7068, West Trenton, NJ 08628, Tel: (609) 882-2000 ext. 6515, Fax: (609) 530-9708.
Detective Terry Evans - Marana Police Department, 13291 North Lon Adams, Marana, AZ 85653, Tel: (520) 544-4985, Fax: (520) 682-2712, E-mail: <firstname.lastname@example.org>. •