from oh-no-not-the-reasonable-suspicion-bar-extremely-low department
Pretextual arrests are the most shameless forces of order. Laws and courts have blessed this activity, which involves cops pretending stops are justified for a reason while using the stop to go after evidence or information related to an entirely different criminal act.
The Supreme Court has somewhat limited these stops, preventing officers from extending stops beyond the stated reason without further reasonable suspicion or probable cause. The application of this decision is far from consistent. Some courts have decided that it is the duration of the violation that counts. If it’s short enough, it doesn’t count. Other courts have ruled (more correctly) that the duration of the constitutional violation does not matter. It is the violation that counts.
Two years ago, Oregon’s highest court went to the Supreme Court Rodriguez decision to its logical conclusion, prohibiting officers from asking questions unrelated to the purpose of the stop. The cops were angry. The move took one of their favorite spots for fishing expeditions off the table, forcing them to stick to the task at hand.
Further south, changes to the pretext arraignments have been issued — not by a state court, but rather by the Los Angeles Police Commission, which (somewhat) oversees the Los Angeles Police Department. The changes are small, but enough to anger the cops and their union reps.
The LAPD has new limits on pretext arrests. In fact, they are not even borders. They are almost nothing. They barely force agents to do anything differently. To call this a “review” of the no-pretexts policy is to mock a term that is already frequently misused. Meet Kevin Rector, reporter for the Los Angeles Times.
Under a new policy passed Tuesday, Los Angeles police can no longer use minor violations as an excuse to investigate motorists, cyclists or pedestrians for more serious crimes unless they first have information justifying the intrusion.
And when officers make these stops, known as ‘pretext stops’, they must now record themselves on their body-worn cameras giving reasons why they suspect a more serious crime has occurred, under new rules. . Officers who fail to do so will first have to undergo training and will face increasingly harsh discipline for subsequent violations.
That doesn’t stop cops from arresting people for minor infractions. They still can. They just can’t use it as an excuse to ask a million unrelated questions in hopes of finding something more interesting. If the justification is a minor infraction, that should be the subject of the judgment.
The second part is more interesting. If officers are going to claim they have “reasonable and articulate suspicion” to extend a stoppage, they’re actually going to have to articulate it. This is going to limit the number of stops that start with next to nothing before the cops backtrack to find justification.
None of this should be considered revolutionary. This should be the minimum expectation of those with the power to deprive people of their lives and liberty. They should be expected to explain the reasons for extending a stoppage. And they should be able to while make this stop.
There are also exceptions to these new rules. Officers can still make mock stops if they have “articulated information” about more serious crimes. This is something that local officers do regularly, often acting as extensions of federal and local task forces.
In response to these minimal changes, the LAPD union presented its vigorous objection — which basically boils down to “no one should ever change the way LAPD officers do things.”
The vote was made over objections from the police union which represents rank and file officers, which said mock stops are essential to ensure public safety and should not be restricted.
This is always a practical argument, since “public safety” is not quantifiable. It’s like the DHS Threat Level Indicator – something that always claims that public safety is threatened without any obligation to provide evidence to support this claim. The union also claims the new rules violate its collective bargaining agreement – another standard argument when policies are changed. Litigation that will cost residents millions while the union argues against the best interests of Los Angelinos is all but guaranteed.
The LAPD union is at odds with the LAPD…or at least its top officials. LAPD officials agreed to the changes, expressing only the (reasonable) concern that the changes could confuse officers until training on the new procedures is rolled out and completed.
But none of that stops the Los Angeles Police Protection League from making angry statements that are completely independent of the supporting facts.
In a statement, the union says [Commission President William] Briggs “should step down from her soapbox, do her homework, and tell the truth about pretense arrests and the important role they play in getting guns off our streets.”
The statement cites data suggesting that 817 firearms were seized during 726 arrests in Newton’s division in 2021, and that the seizures “prevented our residents from being shot, gunned down, intimidated, victimized and murdered.”
The union did not specify how many of those stoppages were pretext stoppages, or what percentage would be prohibited under the new rules.
The statistics are available, but the union would rather the public draw conclusions as poor as the union did from irrelevant numbers. According to external and internal investigations, the LAPD stops black drivers at five times their share of the Los Angeles population. Blacks and Latinos are arrested far more often than whites, although they are less likely to be carrying contraband. And, despite the union’s protests against “public safety”, only 2% of traffic stops result in an arrest for any criminal activity, much less serious criminal activity.
These small changes can result in a serious attitude adjustment. Pretextual stops contribute greatly to biased policing, allowing officers to play Monday morning quarterback during their own stops by finding justifications after the fact. The initial stop is almost always a ploy. What follows is little more than a fishing expedition combined with a shakedown. No wonder the union is furious. This will encourage the agents they represent to think before they act.
Filed Under: lapd, police unions, pretext arrests