The Cone Does Not Justify The Means

On the one hand, the cops in Quincy, California, must have seen this as a wonderful way to make friends within the community, enhance people’s views of police and, well, show the townsfolk a good time.  It’s hard not to appreciate the police when they do something nice.

And it was a nice end result, with the added benefit that they probably made a few bucks, either personally or for the widows and orphans fund (which is a euphemism for beer).  Certainly, you don’t begrudge a cop making a few extra bucks on the side, right?

But for all the happy they spread, this is very wrong.

According to the HuffPo story, this was a promotion for Wall’s Ice Cream.

Using their law-appointed power, the cops pulled over a few unsuspecting citizens and then fired a few questions at them.

After the innocents appeared to be nice and terrified, the officers retreated to their cars to get them a special treat that’s much, much better than a ticket.

When a police officer puts on his lights/siren and pulls a motorist over, it’s a seizure under the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution.  In this case, a conceded seizure of “innocents,” who were “nice and terrified,” which made the outcome all the more relieving, funny and surprising.  That was the joke, and as cop jokes go, it’s a good one.

On the first level, however, the police have no authority to use their power for a gag.  Seizing motorists is an act of constitutional dimension, and not to be taken lightly. Granted, it’s almost disingenuous to make a big fuss, when this can be labeled “no harm, no foul,” but there are certain lines that should never be crossed.  This is one of them.

But on the next level, there are harms, and potential harms, involved in this hilarity.  The obvious one is that police sold their authority to a commercial entity, Wall’s Ice Cream.  No one gave them a gun and shield so they can help promote a product.  The residents of Quincy don’t pay for their uniform and the gas in their cruiser to do cool promotional videos.  If there was money paid by Wall’s, it belongs to the citizens of Quincy, not the cops.

Then there is the problem of diluting the legitimacy of their authority.  What about the next person who sees flashers behind him, but isn’t in the mood for a cone, or perhaps is lactose intolerant, so he’s in no rush to pull over. Except this time, it isn’t a joke and the weapon is pulled out or the car is rammed for failure to stop.

Will anyone accept the explanation that he assumed, since he did nothing wrong, that it was just another gag stop to hand out whatever goodies the cops were paid to handle that day?

And then we have the conflicting issues of the person who has something very important to do and this seizure for commercial benefit means he won’t be at his child’s bedside to say good-bye before she expires.  Any important, even life-or-death scenario will do. Sometimes people have something that is deeply important to them, more so than being an extra in a police promotional video, and do not appreciate the interference and its consequential harm.

Further, there is the problem of pulling over someone who, for less than benign reasons, would prefer not to be pulled over.  What if the gag was played on a bad dude, and as the cop approached the vehicle all filled with the happiness and joy of the ice cream cone punch line, the driver pulled a weapon and blew his brains out?  Not a really good ice cream video now, right?

And finally, there is the problem flowing the other way, where the cop expects the driver to be compliant, but instead the driver, unaware that this is just your typical police handing out ice cream cones scenario, engages in some contempt of cop, and the officer doesn’t like how the driver spoiled his happy moment in the video.  Driver pulled from car, tased, maybe worse, maybe a lot worse, all because he was stopped without basis to play his part in a Wall’s Ice Cream promotion video.

Well, that wouldn’t turn out to be nearly as much fun as anticipated.  And lest there be any question, as phony as the stop might have been, the sting of the taser darts will be very real.

So yes, this was a very cute bit of public relations on the part of the Quincy cops and Wall’s Ice Cream.  And it was also very wrong, very unconstitutional, and a very poor idea.  If the police want to hand out ice cream cones, that’s great. Let them have a pushcart and do so honestly. They do not get to use their authority to add hilarity to their show of force, and they should never sell their shield to any business, even one that makes something as happy as ice cream.

17 comments on “The Cone Does Not Justify The Means

  1. Jesse

    Before I got to the paragraph, I was wondering in my head what they would do if they happened to pick out someone that decided to run (I’m fairly certain they cherry-picked people [mostly adult women, it seems] that appeared highly domesticated and docile to make sure this wouldn’t happen.)

    No doubt the ice cream cones would be forgotten, melting in the cooler while they buckled in for the chase.

    But how would that play out in court? They seemed to have no probable cause, at least none that was portrayed as such in the video. Are we obligated by law to pull over for an officer that wants to hand us an ice cream cone? Or are we obligated simply because we don’t know their intentions and they have a badge? Normally judges will put that obligation on citizens no matter what, but if the police testify that they just wanted to hand out an ice cream cone (I’m sure probable cause would magically materialize before they would actually say that in court)? I’m hearing the judge’s words in my head now, “you pulled them over for what?!?”

    What if one of these people simply drove off when they saw the cop holding ice cream cones? Would that be fleeing a traffic stop?

  2. John Barleycorn

    So pretextual of you esteemed one, to correlate whole cloth fabricated traffic violations and intelligence.

    Such a shame they weren’t in a different neighborhood on the tit for Hasbro pushing Monopoly and giving away get out of jail free cards.

    And the band played on…

      1. John Barleycorn

        “The Fast-Dealing Property Trading Game” is Hasbro’s current marketing stick.

        Perhaps the LEO’s should roll out their own “game”. The Fast-Dealing Freedom Trading Game.

        I will leave it to the readers of your guild to ponder what should replace the railroads as well as Park Place and Boardwalk. But I get to design the trooper hat with tassels, squad car, mounted riot officer, captains hat… pieces.

        The kids will love it.

        Even your readers could problem devise some clever community chest and chance cards. 😉

  3. Brett Middleton

    Well, it’s better than breaking down doors to give away stuffed animals. That approach would be much better suited to hawking action figures.

    1. John Barleycorn

      Relax. Action figures are “calming”
      Why the fuck do you think the exist?

      Stuffed animals are for judges reconciling the law.

  4. Pingback: Ice Cream Stops in California |

  5. louctiel

    This is making a mountain out of a molehill.

    Frankly, maybe it is the job of a blogger / lawyer to take the worst view of something like this, but it seems to me that at least some of the arguments are based on facts not known. For example, we don’t know the agreement between the company and the police department. We don’t know if the agreement was approved by a City Council. We don’t know if the police were on duty or had volunteered their own time. We don’t know where the money, if any, went. Yet all those questions were taken in the most negative light possible.

    There is something to be said for the stop itself, but Mr. Greenfield may not be old enough to remember cops on beats who would stop people just to say hello.

    We also don’t know the “rules” that may have been established for this. We don’t know if cops were told how to react if someone did drive away. We don’t know if they were told not to take the same safety precautions they would on any traffic stop.

    There are lots of people who think that all cops are too aggressive, don’t interact well with the community and are legally empowered POS bullies. While there are cops who fit that description and need to find another line of work, here you have a police department working to change their image with friendly interaction with people and for that they get beat up not only for what they are doing, but what might happen in the extreme?

    This is not as clear cut to me as it is to some. It is clearly not as clear to the citizens who seemed to have fun with it. God forbid that cops and citizens should interact in a fun, friendly manner.

    If ice cream bothers you, here is a video where drivers are stopped and given $100 for driving safely.

    [Ed. Note: Link deleted per rules.]

    1. SHG Post author

      Mr. Greenfield is pretty darned old, and remembers. But saying hello while walking a beat isn’t a seizure. Stopping a car is. Using town cars, town uniforms, town guns and town badges, it doesn’t matter if the cops were on the clock. It’s a police action. And the rest of your protestations reflect a very forgiving view of cops. If it violates the Constitution, it doesn’t matter if it’s making a mountain out of a molehill. They can’t do it.

      And if someone ended up dead or hurt, would it still be fun and friendly? There is no “fun and friendly” exception to the Constitution, no matter how big a deal you think it is. The job of cop isn’t to hand out ice cream or $100 bills, but the job does require them to honor the Constitution.

      1. louctiel

        Mr. Greenfield,

        I didn’t say cops on a beat “saying hello,” I said “stopping people and saying hello.”

        Maybe I am wrong, but I don’t see a difference in stopping someone walking down a street or stopping someone in a car. Certainly all the negative outcomes you list are possible in both situations.

        Secondly, I am not not trying to be “very forgiving” of the police, but rather stating that you made assumptions of all negative possibilities without any basis in fact. You have no idea where the money went yet commented it went to “beer money.” You have no idea of the procedures, yet commented how horrible things could turn out. (Denying of course, how well things turned out.)

        There are a lot of activities where people end up injured or dead yet are still considered “fun.” Auto racing, football, driving to a movie is all fun and games until someone gets hurt or dies.

        If you don’t like what happened, may I suggest that you write the City Council of the town, or even the Police Chief expressing your concerns.

        Either that, or maybe try and get yourself stopped by the police and have them hand you an ice cream or $100. Go to court and explain your outrage to a jury of your peers.

        Just be prepared for what happens next.

        1. SHG Post author

          Maybe I am wrong, but I don’t see a difference in stopping someone walking down a street or stopping someone in a car.

          Yes, you’re wrong, unless by “stopped” on a street, you mean commanded them to stop or physically restrained them. And if so, then that’s unconstitutional. That you may be fine with unconstitutional seizures doesn’t mean they aren’t unconstitutional or others are fine with them.

          You have no idea of the procedures, yet commented how horrible things could turn out. (Denying of course, how well things turned out.)

          It’s not at all clear that things turned out so well. People were terrified, then relieved that they weren’t going to get a ticket or worse. You might be fine with this. Others aren’t, and they are just as entitled as you to go about their life and be left alone. Neither you nor the cops have the right to decide that others get to be stopped for fun. Is this really such a difficult concept to grasp?

          There is no entitlement to do something unconstitutional and stupid, and if no one gets harmed, then it’s fine. You comparison with auto racing is simply a horrible analogy. If you’re going to be irrational, do it elsewhere.

          And instead of writing city counsel, I write here so that any other police department inclined to do something stupid will have the opportunity to see the problems. That’s my choice in how to address this. You can write city hall if that’s your desire, but I write here.

  6. Tony

    If the police department wanted to convey a friendly message for an established business they should have set up shop in a vacant roadside parking lot with a sign that simply read “Voluntary Police Ice Cream Check Point Ahead, Enjoy A Cone On US” with attached blue / red balloons fluttering in the breeze.

    Assuming I had nothing to fear that might be misinterpreted, having had a glass of wine at lunch, a bag of fertilizer in the truck bed, tires that might not pass inspection, having a face often mistaken for others or any of a thousand exigent circumstances, having a barking dog, I might have stopped.

    I might even have considered stopping to record this PR moment on video, scrap that idea as some officers might have an issue with that.

    Mostly tongue in cheek.

    1. SHG Post author

      Another fine idea. Nobody says the cops can’t be fun and friendly. They can’t violate the Constitution to do so. Problem solved. And if you’re in the mood for ice cream and your tires are bald, well, bummer.

  7. Sam

    Sorry but the stops are illegal because there is no probable cause that a violation has been committed.
    Wish someone had taken the cops to court.
    I’ve been stopped for legitimate, career and revenue-enhancing reasons; sad to say very few of the police involved were anything but power hungry, especially the two who ran me off the road for the latter reasons.

    1. SHG Post author

      Why would you say “sorry”? And the burden for a traffic stop is reasonable suspicion, not probable cause.

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