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.