Should police obey the law?

In this post at the Pioneer press Ruben Rosario: Cops’ seat-belt sting did the job. But was it right? Ruben talks about a police string to catch motorists not using a seatbealt.

The FBI had Donnie Brasco, the undercover agent who infiltrated the mob. Maplewood police have “Homeless Harry” — my moniker for the undercover cop who last weekend bagged a completely different kind of outlaw. Let me explain.

Blake Elfstrom, 22, of Maplewood, was driving his girlfriend home late Sunday morning. He was the fourth car at a stop sign before turning onto westbound Minnesota 36 from northbound McKnight Road in North St. Paul.

That was when he spotted a shabbily dressed, middle-aged man wearing glasses that seemed too big for his face. The man, who turned out to be Maplewood cop Paul Bartz, was holding up a sign — “Will work for food” — as he approached and looked inside the line of waiting vehicles.

Elfstrom was pondering whether to roll down his window when he saw the cars moving ahead of him. He entered the on-ramp, only to be waved to the side of the road moments later by one of several uniformed cops standing near a line of patrol cars.

He asked the cop why he was being pulled over. The officer told him his girlfriend was in violation of a 9-month-old law that gives Minnesota law enforcement the authority to pull over drivers and occupants for not wearing seat belts.

“How in the world did you know?” Elfstrom asked the ticketing officer.

“That homeless guy back there? He’s an officer,” the cop replied.

“I saw about 10 other cars pulled over as he wrote out the (summons),” said Elfstrom

Ruben then goes on to delve into the right/wrongs of police posing as the homeless for a sting and quotes officers that are both for and against the practice.

Though, the bit that caught my eye is this

I was left wondering whether the cops violated one state law in order to enforce another. According to Subdivision 2 of Minnesota Statute 169.22, “no person shall stand on a roadway for the purpose of soliciting employment, business, or contributions from the occupant of any vehicle.”

It’s clear from the article that the police did in fact solicit and accept money while working on the sting. (Almost $100! which they donated)

I think we’ve all seen police breaking laws that apply to other drivers: speeding, flipping on lights to go through a red and then immediately turning them off, distracted driving, etc.

I know it’s a loaded question, but does anyone think it’s ok for the police to break while enforcing the law?
Should all these seatbeat tickets be tossed out of court on a technicality?



2 Comments so far

  1. Diana (unregistered) on February 25th, 2010 @ 12:16 pm

    I think if you enforce the law, you should follow it. I say this in part because I live close enough to a police station to see the guys using their lights to get away with blowing stoplights all the time and it’s just so obvious it makes me nuts.

    I’m also curious about this statute that bans panhandling in roadways – I see it all the time in the Quarry, in Uptown, etc. and I know some of those guys are not actually homeless. Case in point, the guy I saw listening to an Ipod while he held up his sign.

  2. David (jacc) on February 25th, 2010 @ 12:52 pm

    Diana – There are often panhandlers in the area where the police did the sting (I live near) and it’s pretty obvious many are not homeless.

    As for the enforcement factor, two things come to mind. I recently ready about a drug sting in Florida where the police sold 4 kilos of cocaine to a dealer and then when the dealer came back a few weeks later for more they busted him. My first thought was “The police put 4 kilos of cocaine on the street, how are they not dealers too?”

    The second situation that comes to mind was recently here in Mn where the police set up a prostitution sting at a massage parlor and the vice officer was considerate enough to have some sex before busting the prostitute. That case was actually turned over in the prostitutes favor, but I believe it had to go to the Mn Supreme Court.

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