Follow the law, get pulled over: Why a police plan to ‘ticket’ drivers backfired in Arizona
PHOENIX – Following confusion and outrage over Tempe Police Department’s new “positive ticketing” campaign, police officials promise no one will be pulled over for following the law.
The department started a new initiative Monday called the “Positive Ticketing Campaign.” Nearby news station KPNX initially reported officers would be pulling people over to issue Circle K drink coupons to people following traffic laws.
The social media response was swift and critical, with local legal experts challenging the constitutionality of such actions.
Several hours later, Tempe police spokesman Detective Greg Bacon clarified that officers won’t actually be pulling anyone over.
“We’re not violating anyone’s rights,” Bacon told The Arizona Republic. “The intent is not for officers to stop cars, pull over a bike or detain anyone under any circumstances. It’s simply an educational campaign on scooter, bike and pedestrian safety.”
Bacon explained that a school resource officer may give a student wearing a helmet while riding a bike a coupon if they see the student around campus or a patrol officer might hand a coupon to someone in line at a fast-food restaurant if they saw them properly yield to a pedestrian.
“No one is under any obligation to have a conversation with a police officer,” he said.
The department also tweeted that the campaign “will not be proactively stopping vehicles, bicycles, scooters or pedestrians.”
Positive Ticketing Campaign: the purpose of the event is to positively engage with the public regarding laws pertaining to bicyclist, scooter and pedestrian safety. During this campaign, @TempePolice will not be proactively stopping vehicles, bicycles, scooters or pedestrians.— Tempe Police (@TempePolice) July 29, 2019
However, the clarification has yet to alleviate the concern festering on social media.
Seth Stoughton, an assistant law professor at the University of South Carolina and a former police officer, said pulling over vehicles without probable cause of a traffic infraction or reasonable suspicion of a crime is a violation of the Fourth Amendment, which prohibits unreasonable search and seizure.
“It’s well-intentioned and I applaud the commitment to building positive police-community relations, but you still have to obey the law,” Stoughton said. “If you’re stopping cars that haven’t violated the law, the stop violates the law.”
I applaud the sentiment, but this is absolutely unlawful. A traffic stop is a seizure, and must be supported by probable cause of a traffic infraction or reasonable suspicion of a crime. A traffic stop that lacks one of those legal justifications violates the Fourth Amendment. https://t.co/6yDV59ymER— Seth Stoughton (@PoliceLawProf) July 29, 2019
“Sure, someone might be happy to end up with a drink voucher instead of a ticket, but I suspect most people would be happier not getting pulled over at all,” Stoughton said.
Departments nationwide have tried similar campaigns, particularly during the holidays. However, Stoughton said they fail to build positive community relationships as it’s still an “enforcement encounter.”
Stoughton suggested alternative initiatives, such as Coffee with a Cop (which Tempe police already do) or other positive interactions.
“If police want to send the message that they’re community servants, then don’t do things that look like law enforcement,” Stoughton said.