What's Worse Than Pumpkin Spice? Cops Pulling People Over To Give Them Gift Cards

This holiday season, police should give citizens the gift of just leaving them in peace.


The coronavirus pandemic has changed a lot about the Christmas season. Travel plans have been cancelled. Family gatherings have been reduced in size and scope. There won't be nearly as many dinners at fancy restaurants.

But one terrible tradition persists. Police pulling people over as though they had committed some sort of traffic infraction, then giving them a gift instead.

This week WACH, a Fox affiliate in South Carolina, reports that deputies in Richland County are turning on the lights and sirens, pulling people over, and then giving them gift cards to Outback Steakhouse rather than citations or warnings. It is presented, as usual, as an uplifting story for the holiday season. A WACH reporter joined the cops and got happy interviews from people who thought they were getting tickets. The sheriff's department then gets to give itself the gift of a pat on the back for handing out free bloomin' onions to people instead of disrupting their lives and saddling them with fines.

This anxiety-inducing crap should not be rewarded with fawning press coverage. The police are abusing citizens' Fourth Amendment rights. Cops cannot simply pull people over with no suspicion of infractions, even to give them gifts.

Reason has criticized this behavior repeatedly. As Jacob Sullum noted back in 2016, these "supposedly heartwarming interactions are still abuses of power. If police would not have stopped drivers for these minor violations unless they had gifts to hand out, they are deliberately inconveniencing people and causing them needless anxiety for the sake of a publicity stunt."

WACH reports that the deputies pulled people over for speeding before giving them the gift cards, which if true might suggest that the sheriff's department is trying to avoid Fourth Amendment concerns by selecting people they would already have been stopping. But WACH's footage also shows deputies giving a gift card to a man on horseback walking along the side of a road, so I'm not so sure about that.

Call us Scrooges here for wanting the police to just leave people alone instead of giving out gifts, but this pandemic is likely to make police interactions all the more fraught this holiday season. Across the country, officials are ordering Americans around and telling us where we can go and when. The rules are confusing, ever-changing, unevenly enforced, and often not justified by scientific research about the spread of COVID-19.

The kindest thing law enforcement can do this Christmas is simply not stop anybody unnecessarily. It is not a "gift" to use your authority to create a sense of dread, even if you then use that same authority to relieve them of the dread you instilled in the first place.

NEXT: Stop Saying Lockdown Is ‘Not That Hard’

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  1. “Stop re-gifting! Stop re-gifting!”

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  2. Police pulling people over as though they had committed some sort of traffic infraction, then giving them a gift instead.

    The gift of an illegal visual search.

    1. And the terror on the face of the driver who knows they’ve done nothing wrong, yet a gangster of the state is nonetheless fucking with their day.

      1. Terror?

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  3. Drivers who obey the traffic laws shouldn’t be pulled over (unless they’re fugitive felons trying to conceal themselves behind a veneer of good driving).

    Call not-being-pulled-over a “reward” if you will, though I’d call it a right of the law-abiding.

    1. He was driving the speed limit and using his turn signals properly, so I surmised he was up to something. I held him at gunpoint until backup arrived.

      1. Way back when I used to read newspapers, I remember two different times when a state legislator was pulled over because driving at the speed limit was suspicious and both turned out to be drunk and were busted for DUI.

        1. Seems like they could have got the DUI evidence tossed based on that “reasonable suspicion” of driving at the speed limit.

          For crying out loud, my aunt used to deliberately drive 5mph UNDER the speed limit on the highway because she thought it was safer.

    2. Cops who pull people over for no reason should be charged with terrorizing.

      1. Cops who pull people over should be charged with 12,000 volts.

        1. ^ pull people over for no reason.

          Why don’t we have an edit button yet?

          1. Same reason there’s no captcha and more spam than value here, I reckon.

          2. No, no – you were right the first time.

  4. They won’t have money for gifts when they are defunded.

  5. Although you could be writing about the media ignoring the Hunter Biden story during the election and claiming it was false unsubstantiated etc when they knew it wasn’t. Or how they ignored Swalwells seditious behavior for nearly six years. Or why democrat house leadership left him on the intelligence committee after learning of it years back. Or how Biden is now compromised by his sons misdeeds which he was involved with. Or maybe look into election fraud and how democrats used mail in ballots to cover up their misdeeds. Or why democrats are threatening violence against trump supporters. Or why actual left wing and black violence is growing in America.

    Nope instead we get news about gift cards and traffic stops.

    1. Go away and start your own damn magazine if Reason bothers you so much.

      1. I know, right?
        What do all these perpetual Reason complainers want, exactly?

        1. They’re just a conservative variety of the cancel culture, trying to squash libertarian viewpoints.

    2. Your expectation of Vox Light is higher than mine. They’ll cover the Biden story again when they can smear Trump with it. Until then, it’s a local story.

      1. And when they run something that gives Trump credit where credit is due, you pretend it doesn’t exist.

        1. “Trump”

          He lost. Please don’t spend eternity TDSing.

    3. This story is about a clear violation of a core constitutional right. It deserves a story more then those conspiracy theories.

  6. In a deeply American sense, every time that an American must interact with his government is a failure of that government.

  7. It’s all fun and games until a Coen Brothers-type encounter, where a nervous Steve Buscemi-type who got pulled over for a reason he thinks is legit (like a body in the trunk) opens fire on the approaching and clueless deputy St Nick. Bloomin Onions! What a fucked up mess.

    1. I was thinking along the same lines, but you beat me to it. The cop pulls over a gangster with two felony convictions and a couple of kilos of contraband in his trunk.

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  9. “We pulled him over to give him a gift card, but then discovered he was Black so we had to shoot him because we felt our lives were endangered. Afterward we went to his house and shot his girlfriend and his dog. Just to be safe. Gosh this is such a stressful job.”

    1. You forgot stealing all their cash using asset forfeiture to steal the car and the house.

      1. That goes without saying. Fortunately they have qualified immunity in case they confiscate the wrong car and house.

        1. Even if they steal the wrong car and the wrong house, on purpose, unless there has been a case where the exact same thing happened it won’t matter.

          Yet the conservatards thrust forward the strawman that eliminating QI is a panacea, set the strawman on fire, and conclude it should remain unchanged.

    2. Let’s be fair, they do shit to white people too.

  10. It’s great that they want to do a little community outreach, Lord knows they need it. But the gut feeling EVERYONE gets when they see blue lights behind them is a feeling of sheer terror. Even if I end up getting a gift card from the cops, that doesn’t seem like a very nice gift to scare people like that.

    It would be better if they just stood outside the mall in uniform and handed stuff out…or just talking to people on the street.

  11. That’s nothing compared to what a local charity ran in our area about 20 years ago. A cop car pulls up in front of our building.
    Cops come in and tell the receptionist to call one of our engineers to the lobby. Guy comes out and the cops put him in handcuffs and perp walk him out of the building and put him in the cop car.
    The word is he’s being arrested for shoplifting at the local mall.
    So about 1/2 hour later, he calls from the mall, where he has been taken with about 25 other poor saps, and told he has to
    “raise bail” by calling his friends and getting them to donate to the charity. Yuck yuck yuck. He told me later he took it in stride but was pretty petrified at first until the cops told him what was really going on. That he was a young black man didn’t help the situation. The charity received enough bad reviews that they never pulled off that stunt again.

    1. He could have sued and got a pretty penny. And the cops should have been smacked down for that.

  12. Oh, pish and tosh! As a middle-aged, middle class white man, I feel so much safer when the police are around, I don’t feel the least bit uncomfortable being blue-lighted for I know I’ve done nothing wrong. And even if I have, I know I can have a friendly conversation with the nice police officer and he’ll let me go with a friendly warning and a tip of his cap. If only the Negroes and the Spaniards would learn to be properly friendly with the police officers they too could enjoy all the benefits of white privilege like I do.

    1. I think you are being sarcastic, but there are many people who actually believe that.

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  14. I am curious what would happen to a law abiding citizen that would attempt to flee from the officer that was trying to give him a gift card by turning into a residential neighborhood and parking.

  15. But WACH’s footage also shows deputies giving a gift card to a man on horseback walking along the side of a road

    Huh? Was he on horseback, or was he walking? Not that it matters much, but it’s hard see how he could have been BOTH.

  16. Choose your battles…

  17. One wonders if police are discriminatory in their gifting. That is do they give more gifts to white drivers than to black drivers proportionally.

  18. We all need a Breonna Taylor decal on our car.

  19. I think a much better gift would be to give citizens the right to issue tickets to police officers for illegal parking for say a week. See how they like it. Download the app. Take a picture of the illegal parking with the license plate in frame and voila…HERE’S YOUR FINE (in the tune of here’s your sign).

  20. This scam was exposed a few years ago when they started with the “gifts” scam, it’s just an excuse to pull you over, so they can examine you and your vehicle more closely for an infraction which will result in a fine or arrest. They may even confuse some people enough to get them to allow a search.

  21. Gifting to anyone they want to get a close look into their vehicle. A false flag for an illegal stop without probable cause.

  22. Keep the card and I’ll keep my freedom from being stopped without probable cause. That freedom is many times more valuable.

  23. I hope these practical jokers get run over and lose their legs.

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