Police Ticket Guy Who Helped Direct Traffic After Traffic Light Failure; Then Leave Without Handling Traffic

from the no-good-deed dept

Sometimes it seems that law enforcement is a lot more interested in enforcing the letter of the law than the spirit of the law. Via Radley Balko, we learn that police in Pasadena California showed up at the intersection of Fair Oaks and Huntington Avenues to issue a ticket to Alan Ehrlich. Ehrlich’s crime? Directing traffic.

Apparently the traffic light went out, leading to backups of more than a mile. It was taking cars more than 30 minutes to get through. Ehrlich decided to help out — grabbing an orange shirt and some safety flags that he had, and helped direct traffic, apparently clearing up much of the backup in about 10 minutes. It was about that time that the police showed up and issued him a citation. And… at no point did the police decide that maybe they should be directing traffic.

Amazingly, the police chief is defending all of this by saying that the force does “not have the man power” to staff someone there to direct traffic — but they apparently have the staff to issue a citation to the guy who volunteered to help out.

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Comments on “Police Ticket Guy Who Helped Direct Traffic After Traffic Light Failure; Then Leave Without Handling Traffic”

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Gabriel Tane (profile) says:

Re: OF COURSE they ticketed him

“…holders of a government monopoly (and that’s exactly what police are)”

Semantics, but that’s not entirely true. A) they are a socialized protection force (the people pay for it… even if they’re not really getting a good deal for their money)… and b) citizens can enforce the law to an extent. Go read about citizen?s arrest.

But again, that’s all semantics. What bothers me here is that they ticketed a guy for (I’m assuming) obstruction or interfering with traffic, and then did nothing to actually help the situation.

I wish someone had gotten it on film.

Butcherer79 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: OF COURSE they ticketed him

Each state, with the exception of North Carolina, permits citizen arrests if the commission of a felony is witnessed by the arresting citizen, or when a citizen is asked to assist in the apprehension of a suspect by police. The application of state laws varies widely with respect to misdemeanors, breaches of the peace, and felonies not witnessed by the arresting party. For example, Arizona law allows a citizen’s arrest if the arrestor has personally witnessed the offense occurring.

American citizens do not carry the authority or enjoy the legal protections held by police officers, and are held to the principle of strict liability before the courts of civil- and criminal law including, but not limited to, any infringement of another’s rights. Nonetheless many citizens’ arrests are popular news stories.

Though North Carolina General Statutes have no provision for citizens’ arrests, detention by private persons is permitted and applies to both private citizens and police officers outside their jurisdiction. Detention is permitted where probable cause exists that one has committed a felony, breach of peace, physical injury to another person, or theft or destruction of property. Detention is different from an arrest in that in a detention the detainee may not be transported without consent.

Gabriel Tane (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 OF COURSE they ticketed him

Thank you Butcherer… that’s why I invited him to ‘go read about’… I (foolishly) assumed he would. Well, not him specifically just… you know… people.

But since he obviously didn’t read about it, I’ll put him as embodiment of my imaginary list of people who should have gone and read it.

So thank you for helping him read. ๐Ÿ™‚

btr1701 (profile) says:

Re: Re: OF COURSE they ticketed him

> What bothers me here is that they ticketed a
> guy for (I’m assuming) obstruction or interfering
> with traffic

That’s the problem with the news these days. They only superficially report on each story. Almost every time, I’m left with key question that they haven’t bothered to answer. In this story, they report that he was cited but they leave the key question of what he was cited *with* unanswered.

I can’t believe it’s against the law in California for non-law enforcement to direct traffic, so what was he charged with? They’ll have a hard time proving obstruction or interference with traffic because the traffic was objectively flowing better after his actions than before them.

I just wish the media would do it’s job and actually report more than just the surface facts in each story.

The Mighty Buzzard (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

Nope, scientifically proven human developmental fact. Their id is going strong basically from birth. The ego builds up pretty quick then finishes developing over a longer period. The superego doesn’t make much of an appearance early on and generally doesn’t really come into a non-shithead version until the mid-twenties.

HothMonster says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

isn’t the super-ego suppose to be a projection of our parents and the authority figures that replace out parents? Its been a while since i studied developmental psychology.
But having worked with a lot of children I can say they seem to have an innate sense of fairness. I think part of it is they don’t have a strong super-ego to use logic traps to rationalize how unfair something is. Like one of the standard response we see on here: “Yeah its unfair but its against the law” or “the law is the law” kind of thing, kids just go, well thats bullshit.

Freak I won’t argue that they are not self-interested, they are most of the world as far as they are concerned, but if they get no benefit or punishment from the outcome they are generally fair judges.

Derek Kerton (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:5 Re:

“I can say they seem to have an innate sense of fairness”

Bollocks. I say they have an all-consuming demand for fairness, especially whey they believe they have been treated unfairly.

…BUT their concepts of fairness are terribly immature, rudimentary, simple, biased in their favor, and dwell only on the short-term present time frame.

Try picking one child up from school and buying her ice cream. Then pick up the second child, and go out for dinner. Now, only buy the second child ice cream after dinner. The first child think it’s UNfair that she gets no ice cream. Even though they both did.

I also played soccer with some 6 year olds. Some kept using their hands to stop the ball as an unintended reflex, others had the ball hit their arms by mistake. No matter. Both sets of kids would argue to their deaths that the ball did not hit their hands. Their “sense of fairness” told them that, since they didn’t touch the ball deliberately, it was only fair that it doesn’t count.

Jose_X (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:6 Re:

I wonder how extensive was your experiment and analysis. In any case, as for the soccer, we don’t necessarily sense something like ball hitting hand when we are playing and our focus is elsewhere (it depends, but do notice how many pickpocketers, thieves, magicians accomplish their goals). Your mind zooms things out to give greater reality/focus to others (or just takes a break or skips a beat). If you didn’t actually make the preparation to use your hand, you might be less likely to realize you used it. [None of this is to say that in any particular instance the kid isn’t aware of what happened and decided to lie for some reason or other.]

Paul (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I find that when a course of action is defended on the basis of liability, there is almost always dollars involved, and the dollars are the *real* reason.

For example: Doctors order useless tests because of “liability”; At the same time, doctors are paid for said tests even though their time commitment is often no more than the time it takes to put a check mark on a box, and (maybe) to read the results afterward.

For example: Cities often do not allow unlicensed food service (such as a fireman’s pancake fundraiser). Cities are paid fees for such licences.

I don’t know where the money is going here. Maybe the Police don’t want jobs reduced because they are not really needed? But I doubt there is any real liability reason here.

Paul (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

I don’t know where the money is going. I said that. If I strongly believed this was about Police protecting the number of police I would have said that to be the case. If this is an intentional policy, I would almost bet it makes some money for someone involved.

Of course, it *could* have been unintentional. Like just stupidly applying a law for one situation (people just stepping out into the street and directing traffic for no good reason) to another (people stepping out to solve a serious problem).

Whatever the justification, I don’t think it is about liability.

The City doesn’t incur additional liability when someone breaks or bends a law, and the police don’t ticket. They can just tell the guy to quit, and warn him. People break or bend the law all the time and get warnings. The police can always issue a ticket *after* a bad outcome to protect against liability.

A review of what I wrote doesn’t yield (at least to me) anything that would warrant an accusation of “Charlie Sheen” thinking. Maybe light on details, but it wasn’t deranged.

Mike42 (profile) says:

I see where the Chief is coming from. He doesn’t have the budget to properly staff his police force, and he wants the voters to feel the pain until they vote to give him more money. Also, the guy was untrained and unauthorized, and could pose a safety risk if allowed to direct traffic.

*That said*

If these backups are a regular occurance, it would seem that deputizing and training volunteers would be a better idea than ticketing someone who helps out. Reach out, slap the guy on the back, give him safety training, and you have just reached out to the community in a time of crisis. Instead, the Chief has just gone a long way to further alienate people from the organization which is supposed to protect them.

Cloksin (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Obviously these backups are NOT a regular occurance, since the article said the traffic light went out!

Deputizing volunteers? In L.A. county, the only deputies are of the sherrif’s department, which is actually the police force in many communities that can’t afford their own police force. So are you suggesting we send people through police academy simply to direct traffic at intersections where the traffic light has stopped working?

McCrea (profile) says:

Re: Re: Mr. Obvious.

Cloksin: “Obviously these backups are NOT a regular occurance… since the article said the traffic light went out!”

Obviously you did not read said article well, because, obviously, the article states “Ehrlich said the Sept. 8 incident wasn?t the first and that the light goes out regularly.”

Some Other AC says:

Re: Re: Re:

Actually, in the article, Ehrlich states this particular light goes out regularly.
“Ehrlich said the Sept. 8 incident wasn?t the first and that the light goes out regularly.”
And no you don’t have to put them thru Police Academy. Traffic direction is mostly common sense when dealing with a basic 4 way intersection. Also, as most of us have to pass a basic driver’s safety test just to get a driver’s license, knowledge of basic rules, as well as common sense, would give most citizens enough background to hold a simple Training exercise on 2 or 3 weekends for anyone who wished to volunteer. Easy solution, cheap overall and bad situations become better.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Why do we need volunteers to train for such a thing when you can just build a replacement light and carry around with you and if something breaks somewhere just pop out the damn thing, how hard is that?
Which brings me to the point, why is that cities don’t have portable backups street traffic lights?

BearGriz72 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

portable backups street traffic lights“?

I had never heard of or seen such a thing before, but a quick Google search and…
Now I absolutely agree! Why don’t we have a few of these for when traffic signals fail?

Lee says:

Re: Re:

How do you know the police force doesn’t have the resources? Those details aren’t readily available in this article. Not enough resources could be a reason, but could be as simple as the department not using their resources efficiently. It could be that the police chief is purposely doing this to use as leverage when he goes to argue for more funds that he doesn’t really need if he was more efficient. This could have been a case of “not my job” by those cops and they failed to report it. Police won’t think twice before protecting “their own” in this situation and the people shouldn’t think twice before protecting their wallets and making sure they are getting their money’s worth.

Jose_X (profile) says:

Re: Re:

It might be a law the guy would be proud to have broken and might break it again.

Drop by a church and you could probably almost instantly get the crowd to chip in to cover it.

The guy could have possibly smiled and gladly taken the ticket. Frame it. Use it to direct a drive to overturn the law or shake up city hall.

Maybe it’s tax deductible.

Robert Doyle (profile) says:

Connect with Citizens: Reason to Vote

I will shamelessly steal your quote and re-purpose it – please don’t sue… (and if someone else said it first, I’m sorry, but I didn’t read every post in the world…)

Connect with Citizens: Reason to Vote.

When people step up, government should reach out. Not to slap them down, but to ask them to help. If Joe Public can see something needs to be done and does it, don’t punish him. If it is dangerous for him to do it and you are afraid of being held liable, explain it to him so he doesn’t feel pissed on.

People always get mad when you don’t understand something – but not nearly as mad as when you ask them to help you try to understand something.

anonymous patriot says:

The Dirty Little Secret.

This story cast light on the dirty little secret of government.

They need more money to grow their fiefdoms so they WANT traffic in chaos because it supports their claims for more officers/bureaucrats and larger budgets. The last thing they want is for some bystander to solve the problem without OVERTIME.

The proof is in the pudding, when schools want more money, they cut teachers, not administrators because by cutting teachers they can more directly affect the children/parents. No one would notice if they cut 2 of 3 Vice Principles.

At the post office, they cut the delivery workers, not the Post Masters because we notice when the mail takes longer to deliver. Who here has ever even seen a post master.

The list goes on.

Anonymous Coward says:

What is amazing here is all the comments and nobody seems to give a crap about liablity.

If the police came by and saw this guy, gave him a thumbs up, and a few minutes later he directs a schoolbus full of children into the path of a fuel tanker truck that explodes and kills all of them, what is the liability for the police officers, their department, and the city?


See, in practical terms, it is cool that this guy is willing to help out and make things good. But if he is even semi-officially sanctioned or even officially tolerated, and fucks it up, then it’s the city that ends up on the hook.

I am also sure that, if the police had let him go and a bunch of people got hurt, there would be a Techdirt article about how the lazy police left an untrained person to direct traffic, proving that the police are incompetent.

Sorry, but the real world says “liablity” and “illegal”. That’s all there is to it.

Manabi (profile) says:

Re: Re:

And what about the liability the city incurs if there’s an accident because the light is out and no one is directing traffic? The article states this light going out is a regular occurrence, so obviously there’s liability incurred by not fixing it properly.

And how does leaving without doing anything to fix the traffic mess do anything to reduce their liability?

Sorry, no, this isn’t about liability, the city’s doing many things that are increasing their potential liability here, while stopping someone from trying to clean up the mess.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

“And what about the liability the city incurs if there’s an accident because the light is out and no one is directing traffic? “

Basic traffic law: If the light is out, it is considered a 4 way stop. If drivers are unable to follow the law, there is no liablity to the city.

I truly hope you don’t have a drivers license.

ChurchHatesTucker (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Basic traffic law: If the light is out, it is considered a 4 way stop.

Depends upon the state. In mine, that isn’t the case (though it ought to be.)

Also, when last I checked, the liability for accidents as in your example is on the drivers, not the person* directing traffic. It’s extremely unlikely that a tanker is going to ram a school bus just because some guy was waving him on, anyway.

(*I think there might have been an exception for cops. If so there’s actually *less* liability for a civilian to direct traffic.)

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

If the police came by and saw this guy, gave him a thumbs up, and a few minutes later he directs a schoolbus full of children into the path of a fuel tanker truck that explodes and kills all of them, what is the liability for the police officers, their department, and the city?

If the cops ticket this guy and essentially relieve him of duty, THEN the aforementioned disaster happens, they are liable. They knew of the problem, removed a solution, then ignored the problem.

AJ says:

Re: Re:

Ok… same situation… guy doesn’t direct trafic, everyone except for one idiot treats it as a 4 way stop, and that one idiot runs into a tanker parked next to a school bus and poof everyone dies…

So we have no liability (the driver blew up) a buss load of dead kids, and the city is free and clear…Where is the win in this?

Who knows if he would have caused someone to blow up, perhaps he saved someone from doing something stupid. So your telling me your not going to stop and render aid to someone who was in a car crash because you might get sued because your not a doctor?… Pussy! Don’t we have good Samaritan laws to prevent liability when people are trying to help anyway?

Chris Rhodes (profile) says:

Re: Re:

What is amazing here is all the comments and nobody seems to give a crap about liablity.

The courts have made it clear that the police have NO duty to protect you (even if your ex, who you have a restraining order against, has kidnapped your children, the police bear no responsibility for their deaths after they fail to respond to your plea for help). What liability is there for the city, in this case?

Don’t give him the thumbs up or any indication of approval. Don’t even talk to him. No liability incurred.

New Mexico Mark says:

Re: Re:

Nice hyperbole, but you might have chosen “a truck filled with ammonium nitrate and oil” and added “children with puppies and baby seals on their way to a charity benefit” for better effect.

Frankly, that liability exposure claim is pretty lame, too. You really need to start with trillions before you even raise eyebrows these days. But don’t stop there. Try this on for size…


Kinda has a nice ring to it, huh?

Seriously, FUD like this is what feeds the downward spiral robbing us of personal responsibility, common sense, and ultimately, liberty. Take a deep breath and realize that things usually work out a lot better, especially when citizens pitch in to help and police officers offer guidance rather than always defaulting to punishment.

Josh in CharlotteNC (profile) says:

Re: Re:

What is amazing here is all the comments and nobody seems to give a crap about liablity.

Yep, some of us no longer give a crap about “liability” because the concept has been corrupted by companies and lawyers in an effort to cover up the truth in whatever situation that word is being applied to. The real words we’re looking for is “responsibility” and “fault.”

“Liability” is the reason hair-dryers have warnings like “Do not use while showering.” or packs of airplane peanuts say: “Warning, may contain nuts.” and there’s instructions on individual cheese slices to “Open here.” So pardon me for not giving a crap about your corrupted concept of liability.

In this case, the city is responsible for multiple reasons. For not fixing a traffic light that repeatedly fails. For not budgeting enough to the police to have someone available for traffic duty. Ultimately it is the responsibility of the citizens, either for not paying enough in taxes to support the services they want, or allowing the taxes they pay to be wasted on other things, or for electing representatives who have voted for those things. But that’s a difficult truth to accept, so we end up with a guy trying to help out get smacked because the city would be “liable” for exactly what they really are responsible for.

And then of course, we have the whole other idea of trying to apply liability to those who are in no way responsible. But that’s for another story.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Somewhere in your rant, you missed that the central point here doesn’t just seem to be that they ticketed the guy, but that the police didn’t even finish the job he started. The “lazy police” didn’t direct traffic, even though they were at the scene and gave a manpower excuse for not doing so. That has nothing to do with liability.

Robert Doyle (profile) says:

They still didn't need to ticket him

Seriously – tell the guy to stop it and explain why. no ticket needed. No need for him to pay a ridiculous fine or fight it in court for even more taxpayer expense.

A simple “excuse me sir, but while we appreciate you are trying to help, due to safety concerns we really must ask you to stop. Thank you for your help though and know your intentions were appreciated. have a good day, citizen.”

Richard (profile) says:

the force does "not have the man power"

Reminds me of an old joke…

Man observes thieves breaking into his shed and phones police:
“I’m sorry sir – there is nobody available”

A few minutes later he tries again

“Some men are breaking into my shed so I got my shotgun and shot one of them”

10 minutes later:

6 police cars with flashing lights career up the drive a helicopter appears overhead.

A policeman runs up the drive “where is the gun and the body?”

“There isn’t a gun “

“I thought you said you’d shot someone?”

“I thought you said no one was available”

Greg G (profile) says:

Re: well.

…a pretty bad decision.

Now there’s an understatement. It goes well beyond just being a bad decision.

Probably just a cash-strapped PD seizing an opportunity to cite someone for something they might call Unauthorized Directing of Traffic. Or some other bullshit name. Just so they could cash in. Or something.

kobyashi says:

F pasadena city

This is a california state law, guess the “nice” guy should have kept walking. Once a traffic area is no longer controlled by electronic control, it is the responsibility of the “city” to control the traffic. Once a person “member” of the city begins to control the traffic, that area must be consistantly controlled by an employee until electronic power can be restored. So in short, once you start, you cant stop until the lights are fixed.
So yes, the Chief and police are correct in the LETTER of the LAW, but the SPIRIT of the law says, they should have thanked him and sent him on his way.

” no good deed goes un-punished “

EdB (user link) says:

impersonating an officer

I skimmed after 60 comments, but generally that is the problem with someone randomly choosing to do a cop’s job. From the article for those who didn’t read it: “After 15 minutes, South Pasadena police say they finally received a call about their newest traffic officer.” Sure that was an attempt at comedy, but hey what happens when a concerned citizen decides to clean up the streets by arresting all the drug dealers and has to resort to deadly force?

Would that be okay, or would everyone say the cops arrested the citizen due to liability concerns.

Anonymous Coward says:

I know a city where there is an island on the main street. The island must have like 200 parking spots and hardly any one ever parks there. There is a two hour parking limit but, for years, it was never enforced. Local business owners would park in the island, so you would have a few cars, but there were far more empty spots than cars all day long, every single day.

One day the city decided to enforce the two hour parking limit (long story, you can blame the mayor though). It made EVERYONE complain to the city and now no one can ever find a parking spot. At first, to avoid a ticket, local employees would move their car from one parking spot to an adjacent spot every so often. Eventually, they even got ticketed doing that. It’s turned into a fiasco. Everyone has been asking for parking exemptions for people who work in the area and the city has been saying that they’re working on it. It’s been a few months now, nothing has been done. No one hardly ever has any place to park and there is this island full of empty parking spots that no one wants to park in to avoid a ticket.

The area that I speak of is Hawthorne California on Hawthorne Boulevard. It’s so sad watching the ticket person giving someone a ticket for being a car parked in a lot full of empty spots.

Sid says:

Mending the Flow of Traffic?

I once got a ticket for “mending the flow of traffic.” I was on a skateboard, going downhill at 35 mph. The posted speed limit was 35 mph. However, the traffic behind me was a little (3-4 cars) backed up, following me down the hill. At the bottom, the police ticketed me. Now, for me to be “mending the flow” the cars behind me would have needed to be going faster than 35 mph, which would be speeding. So the logic is, I needed to get out of the way, so people can go faster than the posted speed limit, or I am in trouble? Hmmmmm!

Paul (profile) says:

Mending the Flow....

If a car could not pass you on a skateboard, could they have passed a car? I doubt it.

And a speed *limit* is the maximum you can go. It is perfectly legal to drive under the speed limit within reason. I would expect anything above 20 mph to be absolutely acceptable in a 35 mph zone, legally speaking.

This comes from perhaps the only guy you will ever meet who had their mother take over the wheel on a road trip because, and this is the quote, “You drive too slow.”

Tom says:

Crime- Impersonating a peace office

This is rather simple. He was impersonating a peace officer and directing traffic. Regardless of the intent, it is against the law.

How often do you watch a heist film and see thieves wear a semblance of a uniform and direct traffic so a caravan of thieves get away? (not saying that is what happened here)

You, the savvy viewer with god-like vision, wonder why citizens could so easily be beguiled by this rag-tag impression of a peace officer or security guard.

The crime is not in the action but in the domino effect an action like this could have. The police were well within their right to give this gentlemen a citation for a number of reasons.

It is also presumptuous to think that the officers involved in this case, were not involved in other investigations at the time. Would you have these officers stay to direct traffic if they were on the way to investigate a more serious crime?

It is reasonable to question authority but be reasonable about how you question it.

Chadwick Dale says:

This should say something about our society and people we elect and put in charge of our communities. For starters somebody else should have been directing traffic but to issue a ticket to an innocent man who was trying to help out because our officals and policemen who were nowhere to be found couldn’t perform one simple task is absolutely absurd. The person who gave the ticket should be fired and or under reform because this is completely ridiculous.
Police should do their job that way we don’t have to do it. Enough said.

Conartist says:

This article posed an interesting debate, I understand the city has a liabilitity concerning the ‘volunteers’ effort to clean up the mess, but what really bothers me is that after the officer had ticketed the volunteer the officer did not stay and continue the work. (I understand that not every intersection needs an officer at the corner waiting for the lights to go out but if it is a regular occurence and it is a known fact that it causes traffic, why did that particular officer leave knowing traffic was bad?)

Anonymous Coward says:

Not enough manpower?

“… leading to backups of more than a mile. It was taking cars more than 30 minutes to get through.”

If you multiply the amount of cars needing to wait by 30, you get the total number of hours of time this cost members of the community. Assuming 1 lane in each direction, 1 mile of backups in each direction, and each car taking up 26.4 feet, that’s 800 cars, so 400 hours of citizen’s time wasted per half hour the traffic is undirected (after a half hour, 800 new cars are in the jam.) Is it *really* not worth the police’s time?

The value to the citizens of making the traffic flow, I would argue, is actually more important than almost anything else they could be doing, unless they’re ALL investigating violent crimes and home invasions. If they had time to ticket the guy, they had time for one of them to direct traffic.

Dave Lieberman says:

Wrong city in article.

That intersection is in the City of South Pasadena, not the City of Pasadena. South Pasadena is well known for the revenue enhancements their police force bring to the municipal coffers. The Pasadena police, like most Southern California law-enforcement agencies, are relatively imbued with common sense when it comes to minor infractions.

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