The state House of Representatives on Thursday agreed private companies should be banned from participating in traffic stops.
The Oklahoman exposed the questionable practice last year, after the Caddo County district attorney hired a Guthrie-based company to do on-site training for his drug task force.
More than $1 million was seized in drug stops last year before the district attorney halted all such stops because of criticism.
State representatives Thursday voted 90-0 to approve the bill barring a law enforcement agency from allowing a private company “to conduct or actively participate” in a roadside traffic stop or traffic arrest.
“It’s probably illegal already for them to do that,” said the bill’s author, Rep. Mike Shelton, D-Oklahoma City. “They can’t do that but they did. So, if we do nothing but clarify the law saying that it’s prohibited, we’ve done a good thing.
“If there are bad people caught, that’s why we train our officers to handle those situations,” Shelton also said. “You can’t pretend to be a police officer.”
The bill now goes to the Senate.
The Caddo County district attorney, Jason Hicks, came under fire last summer for hiring Desert Snow LLC to train his drug task force for one year.
Hicks hired the company in January 2013. He agreed to pay the company 25 percent of all forfeited funds from stops involving its trainers.
Most of the stops involving the company were along a 21-mile stretch of Interstate 40 in the rolling hills of Caddo County.
Sometimes, no drugs were found and no one was arrested, but task force officers took money found in the vehicles anyway after a drug-sniffing dog got excited.
Hicks halted further stops by his task force after a judge criticized him July 2.
Caddo County Special Judge David Stephens became upset after Desert Snow founder Joe David testified he pulled over a pregnant driver himself and questioned her even though he is not a state-certified law enforcement officer.
“For people to pull over people on I-40 without that license is shocking to me,” the judge said.
Prosecutors eventually dropped all criminal cases arising from the drug stops. Thousands of dollars in seized funds were returned.
Still up in the air is what will happen to some of the seized money, including nearly $850,000 found during a traffic stop last May. A July court hearing over those funds has never been rescheduled.