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Protecting our rights

Restraint isn't always what the public's looking for from police, but it ought to be glad it got some this month from Sheriff Mike Winters.

Winters says his department will proceed with care after the Oregon Court of Appeals on July 9 threw out a voter-approved law limiting police seizures of property ' houses, cars, money ' connected to crimes.

Some law enforcement officials are cheering the ruling, which removed one barrier in their ability to seize suspects' property and sell it to help pay for officers, usually as part of drug agencies such as the Jackson County Narcotics Enforcement Team.

But Winters says he is uncomfortable selling property seized from suspects ' people who haven't been convicted of a crime ' and that he will instruct officers to wait for a conviction before selling anything.

— This direction seems obvious in a country where people are supposed to be considered innocent until they are proven guilty. But the law hasn't always made that clear to law enforcement.

For years, they seized belongings if they had probable cause to believe they were used as part of a crime. Then, in 2000, Oregon voters approved a measure prohibiting such property forfeitures unless a suspect was convicted. In 2001, the Legislature made a similar change in state law.

Then came this month's appeals court ruling. It overturns the 2000 measure, but not the Legislature's actions. It's unclear whether the court's ruling, made as part of its campaign against constitutional amendments that cover more than one subject, will stand anyway. An appeal is in the works.

It adds up to a can of worms, one we wouldn't fault Winters or any other police official for not wanting to touch with the proverbial 10-foot pole.

But there's a better reason than confusion for law enforcement to take a hands-off approach on this particular subject. The real issues here are fairness and citizens' rights. If suspects have the right to a fair trial, they also should have the right not to lose their belongings before that trial is over.

Remember, give blood

Don't forget the Red Cross when you're making plans for the remainder of the summer.

The American Red Cross is facing a growing blood shortage as donations fall and more units of blood are needed for medical procedures.

Blood donations traditionally drop at this time of the year when vacations interrupt regular schedules. Blood often is the first thing that gets knocked off the list of things to do, Red Cross officials say.

During the past two weeks the Portland branch of the Red Cross has experienced a decline in its blood supplies ' particularly Type O, the universal donor, which is in highest demand.

Eighty-one hospitals in Oregon, Washington and southeast Alaska rely on blood from the Red Cross. They have enough to treat cancer patients and crash victims, but things could go awry in the event of a major disaster.

So remember the agency's need for donations before you head into your annual vacation. The Red Cross hopes to collect 1,000 pints a day.

Cancer and accidents don't go on vacation.