Petty Tyranny in California

Terrific bit of investigative journalism from the OC Register finds that nearly one million cars in California owned by public officials are outfitted with special plates that make them immune to fines for traffic violations.

An Orange County Register investigation has found that the program, designed 30 years ago to protect police from criminals, has been expanded to cover hundreds of thousands of public employees – from police dispatchers to museum guards – who face little threat from the public. Their spouses and children can get the plates, too.

This has happened despite warnings from state officials that the safeguard is no longer needed because updated laws have made all DMV information confidential to the public.

The Register found that the confidential plate program shields these motorists in ways most of us can only dream about:

• Vehicles with protected license plates can run through dozens of intersections controlled by red light cameras and breeze along the 91 toll lanes with impunity.

• Parking citations issued to vehicles with protected plates are often dismissed because the process necessary to pierce the shield is too cumbersome.

• Some patrol officers let drivers with protected plates off with a warning because the plates signal that the drivers are "one of their own" or related to someone who is.

[...]

Some police officers confess that when they pull over someone with a confidential license plate they're more likely to let them off with a warning. In most cases, one said, if an officer realizes a motorist has a confidential plate, the car won't be pulled over at all.

"It's an unwritten rule that we would extend professional courtesy," said Ron Smith, a retired Los Angeles Police Department officer who worked patrol for 23 years. "Nine out of 10 times I would."

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  • ||

    So if your going to start a drug smuggling operation, put in the one or two years worth of work neccesary to get the bureaucrat plates. At the same time I could go around arresting the other smugglers who are hurting my market. I wonder if anyone else in the multi-billion dollar drug smuggling industry has ever thought of this. No I'm probably just the smartest guy in the world, ever. No one could come up with such a wacky conspiracy. everything is a accident. No billion dolalr drug operation would care enough to bother with this kind of crazy conspiracy.

  • ||

    "It's an unwritten rule that we would extend professional courtesy," said Ron Smith, a retired Los Angeles Police Department officer who worked patrol for 23 years. "Nine out of 10 times I would."

    And that is why law enforcement is nothing more than organized crime. The law (almost never) applies to cops.

  • KenK||

    ...every cop is a criminal.

    Too true.

  • ||

    Cosmotarian,
    What are you babbling about? You keep using the word 'conspiracy' when you mean 'scheme'. I don't know if covered plates would help you at the border. Certainly international drug cartels have used local law enforcement to harry competition. I don't see what the plates have to do with that. At any rate, the drug trade is likely to take advantage of any loophole they can find. But loopholes should be closed because they violate the principal of equal protection under the law. If CA revokes this program tomorrow, I doubt it would raise the price of dope even 0.1%

  • ||

    "It's an unwritten rule that we would extend professional courtesy," said Ron Smith, a retired Los Angeles Police Department officer who worked patrol for 23 years. "Nine out of 10 times I would."

    Equal protection under the law. What a quaint concept.

  • ||

    "Nine out of 10 times I would."

    I wonder what circumstances would cause the change toward the tenth person?

  • ||

    I wonder what circumstances would cause the change toward the tenth person?

    Bad driving so obvious that it is likely to get journos (besides Mr. Balko and the OC Register, I mean) interested in the protected plate program.

    Wrong way on the freeway. 140 mph. That sort of thing.

  • Abdul||

    I wonder what circumstances would cause the change toward the tenth person?

    Hasn't used his tazer in a week and is starting to get withdrawl symptoms.

  • Episiarch||

    I wonder what circumstances would cause the change toward the tenth person?

    Skin color.

  • Episiarch||

    Cosmotarian, What are you babbling about?

    Warren, do you have some sort of sarcasm deficiency or something? Maybe there's a pill for that.

  • ALowe||

    I actually had one of those plates for a little while after I purchased a car from a DA in California. He called me up about 50 miles into the trip home and told me about it. I have to say that it was kind of fun driving 2300 miles in an M3 with a get out of jail free card on it.

  • ||

    Warren, you think:

    "Certainly international drug cartels have used local law enforcement to harry competition"

    that is just conspiracy nuttery. No drug smuggling operation would think to organize an entire "scheme" like that.You think our government just lets this happen and doesn't say anything about it? no way that kind of secret could never be kept by enough people. Ockham's Razor says that it must just be politician errors in creating dumb rules, nothing more. If there are any loopholes the DEA aggressively moves to close them up as quickly as they can, they are professional who are actually working pretty hard at protecting our children you know.

    Your tinfoil hat theories are really absurd.

  • LarryA||

    What a refreshing change. California's usual tyranny is anything but petty.

  • the innominate one||

    "Sure, the car was going 60 mph in a school zone, with gallons of blood pouring out of the trunk, while firing surface-to-air missiles off the hood, but the plates indicated that the owner was a state employee, so we decided to extend professional courtesy and not even pull them over", said Ron Smith, a retired Los Angeles Police Department officer who worked patrol for 23 years.

  • ||

    They have these in every other state except that it comes in the form of the "thin blue line" bumper stickers cops put on their cars to tell other cops not to pull over their reckless driving selves.

  • ||

    An FOP sticker in the back window will get you out of many a parking and speeding ticket.

  • ||

    I know a Deputy DA, and she's explained to me how it actually works. My understanding is that it originally came about because a motorcycle gang had successfully penetrated a police department (dispatch) and was using DMV records to acquire the addresses of people in law enforcement that it found interesting.
    What I'm told is, when they pull your car up on their computers, what they see, instead of your address, is a reference and a contact at the agency which has "protected" your plates. I had thought it was only for Law Enforcement, D.A.'s and Judges.
    I'm a little surprised at the libertarians around here bitching about the privlegde; as obnoxious as it is, the real question is why the police need address information for anyone on a routine traffic stop. I found out also that, in California, they also see if you're a registered gun owner. Anecdotally, I've heard they sometimes become more interested in searching your car once that little bit of information is theirs.

  • T||

    Hmm. Apropos of the moment,

    Police, at all times, should maintain a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and the public are the police; the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent upon every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence.

    Man, good thing Sir Robert Peel is long dead. He would weep for what the police in America have become.

  • Patrick||

    Supermike has it right. They can still get your name and agency. Why aren't they sending the tickets in the mail to the employer? As for the parking cites, I'm living proof that ain't true. Just ask the SF Dept of Parking and Extortion. I was 5 minutes late back to my meter and already had a ticket. It seems like someone has grabbed on to a few people scheming the system and tried to paint everyone with a broad brush. Let's see almost a million confidential plates in California and they found half a dozen people who are using it for gain or to avoid tickets. Color me unimpressed.

  • Jennifer||

    I'm a little surprised at the libertarians around here bitching about the privlegde;

    You're surprised that libertarians object to the idea that those charged with enforcing the law shouldn't have to obey it same as everyone else?

  • ||

    they also see if you're a registered gun owner. Anecdotally, I've heard they sometimes become more interested in searching your car once that little bit of information is theirs.

    As good a reason as any to fight gun registration.

    /Not in my state. Yet.

  • ||

    Jennifer,
    What I mean is that the problem isn't so much "why do the police have this privilege"? as "why doesn't everyone"?
    And I don't mean the power to evade tolls or get away with speeding; I mean the easy availability of personal data during traffic stops and the like.

  • ||

    I meant privacy rights against the easy availability of personal data during routine traffic stops and the like.
    Why are police officers, 911 dispatchers and the like allowed to pull up your data at will?

  • Sukoi||

    Damn, when I first saw the title to Radleys post, I thought that it said "Pretty Tranny in California".

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