HERE'S ONE right out of the pages of a curbstone cops' training manual on how to catch people red-handed and with faces tinted to match, who might be up to no good at one of those massage parlors. If you can't dust them for fingerprints, there's yet another way, as explained by the police in Prince George's County: the police are writing down the license numbers of cars parked near any of the parlors, tracing the tags and -- would you believe -- inviting the owners to headquarters for "inteviews."

This guilt-by-automotive-association business will surely provoke a reaction. Granted, these massage parlors are not exactly the pride of their neighborhoods, but that doesn't mean that any car stationed in the vicinity is a closet parlor car; and no matter what sort of convoluted explanation police include in the letter they plan to send to car owners, this is no way to arrest people for violations of the law. To make matters worse, a draft of the letter says that if the recipient fails to get in touch with authorities within five days of the date of postmark, the police will "recontact you."

This kind of surveillance and harassment is grotesque. Police Chief John McHale says he wants to eliminate every massage parlor in the county that isn't "legitimately helping people with back problems." For starters, he should tell his officers to get off the backs of people who may have done nothing more than put their name on a car registration.