AZ Bill Would Limit Use of Unmarked Police Vehicles
By Howard Fischer - Capitol Media Services
PHOENIX -- A Gilbert Republican lawmaker wants to limit the number of unmarked cars that police can use for traffic stops.
And the few unmarked vehicles they would get to drive would at least have to be inscribed with the name of the agency on the right front door.
Rep. Travis Grantham said he wants the public to be suspicious of being pulled over by "some creep'' driving what might actually be a private vehicle outfitted with some red and blue lights in the grille. And the fewer legitimate unmarked vehicles out there, he said, the less the chance that a motorist might be fooled.
Grantham acknowledged that his HB 2830 also means that police agencies would be limited to no more than 10 percent of their vehicles doing traffic enforcement being without the traditional lights on the roof and markings all around the front, sides and back. But he said that doesn't bother him.
"I just don't want to encourage law enforcement to go undercover on the general public all the time,'' Grantham told Capitol Media Services.
"There's no better way than a real police car, with a uniformed police officer in it, with lights all over it and markings all over it, that, in itself, prevents crime,'' he said. "I don't want to see our police departments, which I love, going to these fully undercover, unmarked, super-secret police type tactics, which I actually think can be quite dangerous.''
"There's no better way than a real police car, with a uniformed police officer in it, with lights all over it and markings all over it, that, in itself, prevents crime." - State Rep. Travis Grantham, R-Gilbert
But the driving force, Grantham said, is making the driving public skeptical of being pulled over by anything that doesn't look like a police car.
As crafted, HB 2830 forbids the use of anything that's totally unmarked for traffic enforcement. Instead, police could use what the measure calls a "specially marked'' law enforcement vehicle.
It would not need the lights on top or the markings all around. But at the very least it would have to have the name and logo of the law enforcement agency on the right door.
And anyone using that vehicle would have to be dressed in an official law enforcement uniform, "including shoulder patches, a badge and any other identifying insignia normally used by the employing law enforcement agency.''
What that means, Grantham said, is anyone who is stopped by what appears to be an unmarked vehicle can demand that the person making the stop open the right side door of the vehicle to display the marking. At that point, he said, the motorist can be assured that it's a real officer making the stop and not someone playing a cop.
"It gives the public some peace of mind,'' Grantham said. "I'm terrified, just so you know, with the rash of these unmarked cars and these guys dressed in what appears to be some sort of uniform pulling over folks randomly in the middle of our city and issuing them tickets.''
A ticket, though, is the least of his worries.
"I'm actually fearful a young woman or a young man or whatever is going to be pulled out of their car at some point and put in the back seat of an unmarked fake police car and perhaps driven off and have some horrible crime committed against them,'' Grantham said.
"That has happened in other states,'' he continued. "And I think it's just a matter of time and I want to try to get ahead of it.''
And what of traffic enforcement?
Grantham said he's not all that convinced that unmarked cars are the best way to enforce traffic laws.
"It's no different than a real police car,'' he said.
"I don't see a difference,'' Grantham continued. "If that's going to be an effective tool, why not just put a real police car out on the road?''
Anyway, he said, it still leaves police with that option for 10 percent of their vehicles to be "specially marked'' with only the logo on the right-side door.
"That's a very generous number,'' Grantham said. He said the Department of Public Safety informed him it has only 18 currently unmarked vehicles out of its fleet of about 600 cars in traffic enforcement.
And Grantham even has a provision for small police departments, those with 10 or fewer traffic enforcement vehicles: They could still have one be specially marked.
The legislation, however, does not make that 10 percent automatic. It allows police agencies to use specially marked vehicle only on a finding that its use "will contribute to the safety of the traveling public.''
There is no date set for a hearing.
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