“The idea behind it is to educate citizens from the youngest to the oldest on traffic laws, bicycle laws, things like that.” That, from Tempe Police Department’s Detective Greg Bacon, all sounds well and good, until you find out that the “it” is stopping motorists and handing out free drink coupons at Circle K.
Understandably, the local population was not thrilled at the prospect of being pulled over, absent any probable cause, and lectured by the cops in exchange for $0.89 worth of paper. And even after police clarified that they would not be apprehending good drivers, the initial effort didn’t age well.
“We’re not violating anyone’s rights,” Bacon later 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.”
But it turns out it may have been an educational exercise in Fourth Amendment rights.
Here’s the thing: most people are happy to go through their day without any police intervention. Even for people with every privilege available, talking to law enforcement can be intimidating. And for those without …
Which is probably why you see a promotion like this in the first place. Officers know the public is distrustful and are looking to create positive interactions, however legally misguided or corny. “It’s well-intentioned and I applaud the commitment to building positive police-community relations, but you still have to obey the law,” University of South Carolina law professor (and former cop) Seth Stoughton told the Arizona Republic. “If you’re stopping cars that haven’t violated the law, the stop violates the law.”
To their credit, the Tempe Police Department realized the potential for misunderstanding and issued a written statement to explain the campaign:
“While in the community, officers are encouraged to notice positive safety habits. They may attempt to have consensual, two-way conversations with members of the community about those behaviors and reward those people with drink coupons from Circle K. Officers, also during the normal course of their duties, will seek consensual conversations to educate people on the specific laws as they pertain to pedestrians, bicyclists and scooter. This program allows officers to positively engage the community in an effort to reduce harm through education of traffic laws.”
Perhaps they’ve learned their lesson — that no ticketing is positive. And leave the drink coupons to the experts.