You are driving down the road when suddenly, you see a cop behind you. You aren’t too worried because you haven’t been speeding.
But then the cop car’s lights go on.
You immediately start wondering what happened. Is your tail light out? Did you stop long enough at that stop sign? Did you break some local rule you don’t know about?
The cop gets out and starts talking to you about some penal code you broke. He asks if you know what it means.
Then he launches into how it is illegal to drive without a cool treat and hands you an ice cream cone.
Wait, did the cop just pull you over to give you an ice cream cone?!
That’s exactly what was happening in Virginia. The police decided to reward good drivers by pulling them over and giving them ice cream.
There’s a video of that here:
I’ve heard of these types of stories before. I’ve thought about how I’d be pretty annoyed at being pulled over for no reason (plus, I can’t eat ice cream), and I’ve wondered how legal these stops are.
I mean, it’s nice to reward someone. But the police are kind of rewarding people by force. Once the lights go on, you are required to pull over, whether or not you would actually want ice cream.
I found my answer to that question on the Volokh Conspiracy (a blog on the Washington Post’s website).
A lot of these stops are unconstitutional. When the police pull over a car, that’s a Fourth Amendment “seizure” of the driver, any passengers, and everything inside. To justify that seizure, the police need at least some cause either that a driver committed a traffic violation or that a person in the car is involved in a crime or wanted in connection with a serious crime.
Kerr goes on to explain this gets even more problematic if a cop pulls a car over only to realize illegal activity is going on within the vehicle.
Preston Mitchem from the Root points out the difference between “joy” and “relief”. A lot of these videos are going viral because of how happy the people in the video when they are really just relieved. You are not seeing the face of someone so excited to get ice cream. You are seeing the face of someone relieved not to have a run-in with the police.
So in other words, the police are causing fear when they pull over the individuals. Then the individuals are relieved when it’s just for ice cream.
I’m not trying to say these stops aren’t well-intentioned–they appear to be and the cops clearly want to make people happy. The police themselves appear to be sweet (as does the ice cream).
But these types of stops, I think, cause fear. And are technically sometimes illegal.
What do you think about them?