Cops trying to improve relations encounter constitutional scorn

It can be hard being a cop trying to do the right thing, but perhaps it’s time to stop with the pulling-motorists-over-to-give-them-presents thing.

The Halifax, Virginia police department, no doubt, had the best intentions when it began pulling people over and rewarding them with ice cream last Saturday.

“I hope that especially in today’s climate people can see that cops are humans,” police chief Kevin Lands told CBS News. “We like to have fun.”

The trouble is these are the times we live in, and it’s also illegal.

“When the police pull over a car, that’s a Fourth Amendment ‘seizure’ of the driver, any passengers, and everything inside,” George Washington Law School professor Orin Kerr writes. “To justify that seizure, the police need at least some cause either that a driver committed a traffic violation or that a person in the car is involved in a crime or wanted in connection with a serious crime. If the police have that cause, they can stop the car regardless of whether they want to write a ticket, investigate a crime or give the driver an ice cream cone. But the police can’t pull over the car without any cause, even if they want to do something nice, such as give the driver a gift.”

At Above the Law, Kathryn Rubino writes that the prank is a “mildly charming baby step” toward improving relations between the police and communities of color.


Certainly we can all acknowledge the good intentions behind the program, but generations of distrust sown by systemic racism cannot be undone by ice cream. I mean ice cream is great, top notch even, but cookies ‘n cream isn’t a strong enough balm to heal this wound.

But, here’s a thought, a better first step to improving police/community relations is something that doesn’t involve trampling over constitutional rights.