LAPD Police Commission Enrages Police Union By Enacting Minor Changes To Pretextual Stops

from the oh-no-not-the-extremely-low-'reasonable-suspicion'-bar dept

Pretextual stops are law enforcement at its most shameless. The laws and the courts have blessed this activity, which involves cops claiming stops are justified for one reason while using the stop to go fishing for evidence or info related to a completely different criminal act.

The Supreme Court curbed these stops a bit, preventing officers from extending stops past the point of the stated reason without additional reasonable suspicion or probable cause. The application of this ruling has been far from consistent. Some courts have decided it’s the length of the violation that matters. If it’s short enough, it doesn’t count. Other courts have ruled (more correctly) that the length of the constitutional violation doesn’t matter. It’s the violation that counts.

Two years ago, Oregon’s top court took the Supreme Court’s Rodriguez ruling to its logical conclusion, forbidding officers from asking questions unrelated to the purpose of the stop. Cops were angry. This ruling took one of their favorite venues for fishing expeditions off the table, requiring them to stick to the stated task at hand.

Further south, changes to pretextual stops have been handed down — not by a state court but rather by the Los Angeles Police Commission, which (somewhat) oversees the Los Angeles Police Department. The changes are minimal, but they’re enough to get cops and their union reps angried up.

The LAPD has new confines to pretextual stops. Actually, they’re not even confines. They’re hardly anything. They barely require officers to do anything differently. To call this an “overhaul” of pretextual stop policy is to make a mockery of a term that is already frequently misused. Here’s Kevin Rector, reporting for the Los Angeles Times.

Under a new policy adopted Tuesday, Los Angeles police can no longer use minor violations as an excuse to investigate motorists, bicyclists or pedestrians for more serious crimes unless they first have information that justifies the intrusion.

And when officers do make these stops, called “pretextual stops,” they now must record themselves on their body-worn cameras stating their reasons for suspecting a more serious crime has occurred, according to the new rules. Officers who fail to do so will be required first to undergo training and will face increasingly severe discipline for subsequent violations.

This doesn’t prevent cops from stopping people for minor violations. They still can. They just can’t use it as an excuse to ask a million unrelated questions in hopes of finding something more interesting. If the justification is a minor violation, that should be the focus of the stop.

The second part is more interesting. If officers are going to claim they have “reasonable articulable suspicion” for extending a stop, they’re going to actually have to articulate it. That’s going to limit the number of stops that begin with nearly nothing at all before cops work their way backwards to a justification.

None of this should be considered groundbreaking. This should be the minimum expectation of people given the power to take away people’s lives and liberty. They should be expected to articulate their reasons for extending a stop. And they should be able to do so while performing that stop.

There are also exceptions to these new rules. Officers can still perform pretextual stops if they have “articulable information” about more serious crimes. This is something local officers do regularly, often while acting as extensions of federal and local task forces.

In response to these minimal changes, the LAPD’s union has offered its strenuous objection — which basically boils down to “no one should ever change the way LAPD officers do things.”

The vote was made over objections by the police union that represents rank-and-file officers, which said pretextual stops are critical to ensuring public safety and should not be restricted.

That’s always a handy argument, since “public safety” is unquantifiable. It’s like the DHS’s threat level indicator — something that always claims public safety is at risk without any attendant obligation to provide evidence to back this assertion. The union also claims the new rules violate its collective bargaining agreement — another standard argument when policies are altered. Litigation that will cost residents millions while the union argues against Los Angelinos” best interests is all but guaranteed.

The LAPD union is at odds with the LAPD… or at least its top officials. LAPD officials agreed with the changes, expressing only the (reasonable) concern the changes could lead to officer confusion until training on the new procedures is rolled out and completed.

But none of this stopping the Los Angeles Police Protective League from making angry statements that are entirely unmoored from supporting facts.

In a statement, the union said [Commission President William] Briggs “should get off his soapbox, do his homework and tell the truth about pretext stops and the important role they play in taking guns off our streets.”

The statement cited data suggesting there were 817 firearms seized during 726 stops in the Newton Division in 2021, and that the seizures “prevented our residents from being shot, shot at, intimidated, victimized and murdered.”

The union did not say how many of those stops were pretextual stops, or what percentage would be precluded under the new rules.

The stats are available, but the union would rather the public draw conclusions from irrelevant numbers as poorly as the union has. According to outside and internal investigations, the LAPD stops black drivers at five times their share of LA’s population. Blacks and Latinos are stopped far more often than whites, despite being less likely to be carrying contraband. And, despite the union’s “public safety” protests to the contrary, only 2% of traffic stops result in an arrest for any criminal activity, much less serious criminal activity.

These minimal changes may result in a serious attitude adjustment. Pretextual stops are a large contributor to biased policing, allowing officers to play Monday morning quarterback on their own stops by finding justifications after the fact. The initial stop is almost always a ploy. What follows is little more than a fishing expedition combined with a shakedown. No wonder the union is irate. It will make the officers they represent think before they act.

Filed Under: , ,

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “LAPD Police Commission Enrages Police Union By Enacting Minor Changes To Pretextual Stops”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
That One Guy (profile) says:

If the numbers show racism the numbers are not the problem

According to outside and internal investigations, the LAPD stops black drivers at five times their share of LA’s population. Blacks and Latinos are stopped far more often than whites, despite being less likely to be carrying contraband.

Why I do believe I found out where the opposition might be coming from. If they have to actually describe why they pulled someone over and have camera footage of it it will becomes very clear, very quickly that the primary ‘crime’ in many of the stops can be summed up as simply ‘driving while non-white.’

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
N0083rp00f says:

Same as always, don't take responsibility

I can see the root of the problem.
The so called union is actually a criminal organization facilitating criminals and their activities.

Lawsuits shouldn’t be going after the city but the officers and the union itself.

Arijirija says:

Power versus authority

I like to think of it as power versus authority. Any police officer has the power to stop me; his authority to do so only exists while he is clear about the reason to stop me. Authority in the Common Law nations is based on official transparency; power, as pointed out by Chairman Mao, grows out of the barrel of a gun.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Arrest Warrant

Originally in America, policemen had NO individual authority to stop or arrest anybody — a judicial Arrest Warrant was required.

Corruption in our government eventually eroded the citizen protection of a judicial Arrest Warrant — and every dumb street cop & hillbilly rural sheriff was de facto granted the “Judicial Power” to stop/arrest anyone in their jurisdiction, as they chose.

(of course anybody could always legally make a “citizens arrest” if they directly witnessed a crime — but they were also subject to strict personal legal liability for false arrest or unreasonable use of force)

OGquaker says:

Re: Re: Sitting in the courts for years

While “witnessing” in LA criminal courts for 25 years, i have ask a dozen “attorneys” what the US Fifth Amendment says, and NONE have regurgitated anything close to the first line: “No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury” Of course, an “infamous crime” is an accusation that would destroy your standing in the community (like drugs?) thus Grand Jury’s are secret in this country. Does not apply to chattel.

Lostinlodos (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Just like

It’s the same as our military. You only need ovary lawful orders. You have the right to remain silent so demanding an answer is not a lawful order.

The problem is knowing what is and is not a lawful order. They CAN legally detain you for up to 72 hours (in general).
And fleeing is a crime.
So you need to weigh which is more important, your right to remain silent or your mobility for the next 3 days.

OGquaker says:


“after each question, state clearly that you will not be answering any questions” IS, by definition “additional reasonable suspicion” and “failure to cooperate with Law Enforcement”. We (five White & Korean members of this meeting) have stood in this front yard after worship and watched a 10-12 year old Black kid get written up with a “ticket” on this sidewalk on his small bicycle…. 20 years ago. The Corporation Of Los Angeles hires Rent-A-Cops (LAPD) to “Protect And Serve” property, not people. Blacks force property values down to facilitate investors, South Central LA is now in our gentrification phase, negating Proposition 13 & quadrupling property taxes on this real estate: blacks are history around here. The next house over was taxed at $140k in 2019, at $2.2m (sale price) in 2021.

“In June 2020, Los Angeles Councilmembers [SIC] introduced a motion to evaluate the potential of transferring traffic enforcement responsibilities from armed police officers to alternative agencies, such as civilian personnel in the Department of Transportation”

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...