Food Trucks

Forget the Violent Campus Protests—This College Cop Is Gunning for Unlicensed Hot Dog Vendors

Watch a Berkeley officer seize the cash out of the wallet of a street merchant.


hot dog cop
Martin Flores video

The campus police at Berkeley may not be able to stop people from trashing the town while protesting conservative college speakers, but they sure can rain down hell on some hot dog vendor for not having a permit.

That appears to be what happened over the weekend. Martin Flores, a Berkeley alumnus, recorded two members of the University of California Police bringing the hammer down on an unlicensed hot dog vendor serving folks attending Saturday's football game.

Flores' videos probably wouldn't have made such a splash online if the officer had simply cited the vendor, named Juan, and made him stop selling his food. What's drawing attention is the officer's casually condescending demeanor as he made this poor man miserable, and also the fact that he took Juan's wallet, removed the cash from it, and kept it. Watch the video below:

The officer has been identified as Sean Aranas, and there is now an online petition trying to get him removed (and some people have claimed in the comments under the petition that he has harassed others and them).

That Aranas seized Juan's cash has prompted some discussion of civil asset forfeiture, where police seize and keep money from people charged with crimes. The system is prone to abuse because police are frequently able to keep money and property for their department without ever having to convict (or often even charge) defendants with criminal activity.

The good news for Juan is that thanks to reforms to asset forfeiture laws in California last year, the police cannot keep his money unless they actually convict him or he pleads guilty to a crime.

The bad news for Juan is that even if though police have to convict him in order to keep his money, they've still seized it and booked the cash as evidence, making it harder for Juan to defend himself in court. Flores has set up a GoFundMe account to raise money for Juan's defense; at last check, it has raised more than $30,000.

Juan is lucky in this case that somebody was there to capture his treatment on video. Not every street vendor who gets harassed by police get the benefit of publicity. They end up getting chewed up and spit out by a legal system whose permitting requirements make it too costly to comply with the law and whose penalties make it even more costly for those who get caught breaking the law. The process is the punishment—and when you're poor, even attempting to comply with government regulations is a type of punishment.

In theory, those permitting requirements are for the sake of public sanitation. But people aren't idiots: They can look at Juan's set-up and see exactly what they're getting. This is the equivalent of a backyard barbecue, not a food truck; students interviewed by KTVU, the local Fox affiliate, said they understood full well that health officials have not inspected these small vendors.

The biggest irony: Berkeley and other liberal cities say they're trying to resist President Donald Trump's deportation efforts. But this kind of petty enforcement of the law forces interactions between local police and poor immigrants, and thus increase the likelihood that the vendors will draw the attention of federal immigration officials. Los Angeles is looking at ways to actually scale back crackdowns on street vendors in order to avoid getting people deported.

Eagle eyes may have noticed that Juan was cooking up some bacon-wrapped hot dogs. Cities have a lengthy history of cracking down on bacon dogs even though residents love them. Reason TV covered Los Angeles health officials' war on these businesses back in 2008. As one vendor noted, a truck that would serve bacon dogs the way health officials demanded would cost $26,000. I'm betting Juan did not have that much cash in his wallet.

Watch Reason's video below: