from the fuck-the-law,-said-the-law-enforcement officers department

It’s hard to find people who care less about the law than law enforcement. Most traffic stops are pretextual. A real (or fake!) traffic violation is an opportunity to go fishing for bigger fish. Conversations with drivers move from standard license and registration requests to anything that might expand the reach of the stop. Travel plans are consulted. People are asked if they are carrying any contraband. The windows look through. Drug dogs are brought to the scene.

Not a smart way to run a law enforcement business, especially when agencies’ human resources are more limited than ever. Millions of pretextual stops occur every year. Most end up with nothing more than a date.

There have been legislative efforts and judicial decisions that have slowed down pretextual stops to a certain extent. of the supreme court Rodriguez The decision was supposed to be one of these, but in the years since this ruling, very little has changed in terms of day-to-day policing.

Recognizing that most traffic stops are simply fishing expeditions that disproportionately target black drivers, the city of Pittsburgh passed an ordinance in 2021 that prohibits stops for minor traffic violations. (h/t radley balco)

The city ordinance prohibits Pittsburgh police officers from pulling over a motorist if the primary reason is one of the eight minor moving violations. (Officers could stop a motorist for another reason and still issue a ticket for a minor violation.) Advocates argued that racial bias can lead to disproportionate law enforcement against Black and Latino residents. The ordinance was an attempt to mitigate those disparities inspired by similar legislation in Philadelphia..

According to data from the Pittsburgh Police, black residents make up only about 22% of the city’s population, but accounted for 42% of traffic stops in 2021.

A good reason to end a bad practice. On top of that, ending enforcement of these minor violations would theoretically allow the Police Department to put more people to work tackling serious criminal activity. But the PD apparently cares more about his ability to make pretext stops than following the law, as WXPI reported earlier this month.

Acting Pittsburgh Police Chief Tom Stangrecki issued an order this week advising officers to get back into the practice of enforcing minor traffic violations, such as broken headlights or expired inspection stickers.

This is why the PD gave WXPI a decision that it was no longer necessary to comply with the ordinance enacted last April:

The city sent an email response Tuesday afternoon, stating the move was made due to recent changes in state law.

The email gave no further details and no further explanation of the changes to state law.

Further clarification was given to WESA in its follow-up to Chief Stangrecki’s reversal. But not much else, at least in terms of the unspecified state law changes. The statement references only a “recent amendment” to Pennsylvania vehicle codes related to “license plate obstruction.” Somehow, law enforcement was unable to provide the NPR affiliate with any specific state codes and/or their relevant amendments.

But Chief Stangrecki offered his own explanation for the reversal: He just wanted his officers to feel good about being cops, even if being cops means spending a lot of time pulling over black drivers for nonsense like “license plate obstruction.”

Stangrecki told WESA that another reason for the reversal was to boost morale among the ranks of the city’s police. He said he has received constant feedback that the ordinance “prevents them from doing their jobs.”

“The officers that are employed here come for a reason, and that is to enforce the law,” Stangrecki said. “I thought it was imperative to send a strong message to the officers that are still here in this police force that they can do their job, they can enforce the law.”

I’m guessing officers didn’t feel too good about tackling more serious criminal activity with the time freed up by prohibition (apparently very temporary). They wanted to look at the license plates again to make sure (don’t fuck with me) that the state tourism website printed on the license plates is not covered by custom license plate frames. That the law was immediately changed (after a state court decision that obstructing the website on the license plate was obstructing the license plate itself) to ensure that personalized license plate frames that did not cover license plate numbers were not illegal apparently doesn’t matter.

It seems that the PD (barring further clarification) has decided on a court decision and the recent amendment that addresses it is in conflict. And Chief Stangrecki has decided to take advantage of this conflict to allow officers to do the kind of work they to wish to do (harass drivers, make pretextual stops) instead of doing what is most useful for the people who pay their salaries.

Filed Under: 4th amendment, pittsburgh, pittsburgh pd, traffic stops