While researching earlier this week, I stumbled upon a Plain Dealer article (Secret Squad, 10/13/04, B1) detailing the furtive intrigues of the City of Cleveland Heights Police Department. Yes the good old CHPD has found a new way to occupy the dull hours between staffing the ubiquitous speeding traps & goose-stepping practice, by rooting through neighborhood garbage cans. The CHPD has secretly established an undercover trash squad to carry out the task. According to testimony given by Detective Dolan in the Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court, the squad goes "down the street just like the garbage men would, wearing a garbage outfit...and pick[s] up the garbage [from suspect houses]." Dolan further testifies that garbage pulls take place as often as three times a week, and in some areas every day. Once the garbage is pulled, the squad sifts through looking for drug paraphenalia & evidence of other crimes in order to establish sufficient probable cause to support a search warrant. Apparantly, users are absentminded enough to frequently toss baggies & pipes in with the household rubbish, and leave the whole incriminating bundle by the curb without a second thought. The CHPD has simply undertaken to collect/accept these early Christmas presents.
How can this be legal you ask? The case of California v. Geenwood (S. Ct., 1988) established, in a similar trash pulling case, that there is no legitimate expectation of privacy when information (read: garbage) is conveyed voluntarily to a 3rd party (read: waste managment & the eager hands of the trash squad). In other words, the Supreme Court is of the opinion that if you're fool enough to put incriminating evidence out on your front lawn every week, don't be surprized when the police swing by to take a look. Given the general ignorance of the lack of privacy of one's garbage, your friendly local trash squad is no doubt pondering the question: what's in your wastebasket?
Note: appologies to the sagacious reader for not including a link to the Plain Dealer article discussed above. The "newspaper" in question, being written mainly with quill & Parchment, does not include substantial archives on line.