Category: Law Enforcement

Our Policy Is We Have No Policy

Those are the words reported to me this week by NOPD relayed through the New Orleans City Attorney’s office in response to my public records request from July. Yes, July. Never mind that the Louisiana public records law requires documents to be produced in 3 days. That’s not the big issue here though.

In case you missed it this summer, there was a story about a burglary suspect who was caught as a result of an NOPD vehicle that is able to scan license plates and run them through a computer while driving.

According to Uptown Messenger’s reporting:

“The reader, affixed to a normal patrol car, automatically scans the license plates it passes and checks to make sure they aren’t on stolen cars, but it also maintains a geographical database of the tags it passes.”

Overall I have no issue with the technology. But it’s that last line that got my attention because of the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision, United States v. Jones. As a result of that decision I seriously wonder if NOPD could have some major 4th Amendment problems with their use and/or storage of the license plate data they collect.

So, I requested the full NOPD policy regarding the use and storage of data associated with any and all departmental vehicle license plate scanners. The city attorney’s response:

“Please be advised that the Police Department has informed our office that no such record exists.”

This terse, 4 1/5 month late response will certainly not be the end of this. All I want to know is exactly what NOPD uses this data for and how long they keep it. I don’t think that’s asking too much.

You Can Film NOPD

Even though the 1st Amendment of the Bill of Rights establishes the right of individuals to film or photograph police officers in the line of duty, oftentimes they feel otherwise. Well, for all of you out there who decide to exercise your Constitutional rights in this regard can rejoice. The federal Consent Decree filed this week on July 24, 2012, explicitly lays out the proper conduct for NOPD in dealing with being filmed, photographed or commented about.

“Officers shall respect the right of civilians to observe, record, and/or verbally comment on or complain about the performance of police duties occurring in public, and NOPD shall ensure that officers understand that exercising this right serves important public purposes.”

So, pretty awesome stuff. I definitely recommend reading through the entire decree. Personally, I intend on making a laminated card with the above portion and always carrying it on me.

Reminding NOPD About Louisiana Seatbelt Laws

For the record, I am not an attorney…yet. However, I can read. In light of the fact that I had two friends pulled over for a “seat belt check” Friday night in the Fontainebleau/Broadway area of New Orleans, I felt it was necessary to remind NOPD of Louisiana seat belt laws.

According to Louisiana Revised Statute 32:295.1

“A.(1)  Each driver of a passenger car, van, or truck having a gross weight of ten thousand pounds or less, commonly referred to as a pickup truck, in this state shall have a safety belt properly fastened about his or her body at all times when the vehicle is in forward motion.  The provisions of this Section shall not apply to those cars, vans, or pickups manufactured prior to January 1, 1981.” And, “(2)  A person operating or riding in an autocycle shall wear seatbelts while in forward motion.”

So, we know the law says everyone (earlier this year the legislature clarified the statute to include SUVs) must be wearing seatbelts. Whether that should be a law is a matter for another day. Anyway, so what can a police offer use as probable cause to pull someone over for not wearing a seatbelt? Section F of the statute says:

“Probable cause for violation of this Section shall be based solely upon a law enforcement officer’s clear and unobstructed view of a person not restrained as required by this Section.”

That means you cannot be stopped by police to check if you’re wearing your seatbelt. It’s pretty damn clear in the statute. My question for this NOPD District 2 female officer is, how could she clearly see, in a moving car, after dark, the driver or passenger not wearing their seatbelt? It is highly unlikely. What I suspect is that NOPD is using these illegal seatbelt stops as a way to check for other potential illegal activity, such as DWI.

I can already hear the critics. “So, what?!” “What’s the big deal? You should be wearing your seatbelt anyway!” The point is that we have at least three problems with this scenario. The first, most egregious, is NOPD’s clear inability to follow a simple law. Second, they are using false probable cause (i.e. illegal) to basically say “I’m looking out for your own safety whether you like it or not,” which is not the proper role of the government. Third, the US Constitution, by way of the 4th Amendment of the Bill of Rights, protects people from unreasonable searches without probable cause.

Last, but not least, on the off-chance that this could be classified as a seatbelt checkpoint, we still have a problem. RS 32:295.4 requires that ” Provision for advance warning to the approaching motorists with signs, flares, and other indications to warn motorists of an impending stop and to provide indication of its official nature as a police checkpoint.” That clearly was not happening in this case, so cannot be used as a defense for the stop.

So, NOPD, I would like an explanation as to why this unconstitutional, illegal, and harassing stop took place this past Friday night. I sincerely hope this is not common practice.



Positive News in Law Enforcement

I don’t know how many of you read Radley Balko’s site. Those of you who do will be quite surprised with what I’m about to share with you, others may or may not but I suggest you keep up with him if you’re interested in drug war/police militarization/law enforcement issues from a libertarian perspective.

A lot of you are probably familiar with the common refrain of  “no wrongdoing was found” or “proper procedure was followed” coming from police supervisors in response to cases of police brutality. However, I have good news! I have discovered a case that will delight the hearts and minds of civil libertarians, and from Jefferson Parish, Louisiana (mostly suburban New Orleans)  of all places.

According to the Times-Picayune,

“A Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s deputy has been fired after he repeatedly tased a Marrero man during an arrest last November and Sheriff Newell Normand said he wants to pursue criminal charges against the former officer. Deputy Robert Hoobler was terminated by Normand earlier this month after using his Taser on Leron Anderson at least three times.”

The story begins with a probably unsympathetic individual being taunted, reacting violently to his abuse, and then being subsequently tased into submission by the police. After which the deputy is cleared of any wrongdoing for following protocol.

Here’s the amazing turn though;

“The incident was reviewed by the Sheriff’s Office, which is protocol and no wrongdoing was found. But Normand said he became “overwhelmingly concerned” after watching video of the incident because he believes Hoobler used the Taser three more times than was warranted. It appears Anderson was tased four times.

Normand said he did not hear any racial slurs on the video, but he saw Hoobler issuing unnecessary warnings to stop resisting before firing the weapon.

“The video reveals clearly that he’s not resisting,” Normand said.

The sheriff said he believes Hoobler ordered those commands in an attempt to justify the tasing. Normand said he will conduct an internal investigation into why Hoobler’s actions were cleared of wrongdoing despite evidence there were problems. That investigation will commence after a criminal investigation into Hoobler’s actions.

Normand said his office has told the Jefferson Parish District Attorney’s Office it wants to pursue criminal charges, and if that office declines to prosecute, he will forward the case to the FBI to investigate for possible civil rights violations.”

For those of you keeping score at home, the Sheriff didn’t just accept the results of the internal investigation, reviewed video himself, made note of the farcical “stop resisting” ploy used in many of these cases, is investigating the investigators, fired the deputy, is pursuing criminal charges, and will take it to the feds if the DA fails to do anything. Normand-7, status quo-0. Bravo Sheriff, bravo.