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New Orleans Police Are Conducting “Informational” Checkpoints, But Is It a Violation of Our Rights?

Posted on Apr 30, 2020 in Local Issues, NOPD, Traffic

In the midst of COVID-19, the NOPD has begun conducting checkpoints around New Orleans. Cops are gathering at major intersections, along streets like Broad and Claiborne, and approached vehicles that got stopped at red lights. Ostensibly, or officially, the stops were to be seat belt checks that would also provide information about the COVID-19 stay-at-home order, according to the NOPD website, In practice, cops are asking drivers and passengers where they are going and if they know about the stay-at-home order. However, there have been reports circulating online, that the police are also asking to see drivers’ registration and insurance, and checking brake tags. What’s more, many of the police officers are not wearing masks when approaching vehicles.

Are the Police Checkpoints a Rights Violation?

The Louisiana ACLU has called for a stoppage of the stops. They claim that these stops are a violation of constitutional rights. Additionally, they may be a danger to public health rather than a purveyor of it. Police at these checkpoints are not wearing masks and are often not adhering to social distancing standards. The CDC indicates that people should keep six feet between themselves or others at all times to reduce the risk of infection by COVID-19. But at these traffic stops cops are often gathering together in large groups, often standing together outside their vehicles. They are approaching drivers and passengers and speaking to them through their vehicle window. During such a pandemic, this behavior presents serious health concerns and endangers both citizens and the police officers to potential exposure.

The Police Checkpoints Ignore Reasonable Suspicion

According to the law, police officers must have reasonable suspicion to conduct any traffic stop. In other words, the police cannot just pull you over for anything. In order for any charges to hold water in a court of law, they must be able to show that there was a substantial reason for the traffic stop in the first place. That is, if a police officer does not have reasonable suspicion that a crime is being committed they cannot make an authorized traffic stop. Failure to prove reasonable suspicion in a court of law will likely result in a dismissal of any charges. The Louisiana ACLU are claiming that the NOPD checkpoints violate this right. There is little information from the NOPD itself on how they are determining who to stop. However, this writer observed a checkpoint last week on Orleans, where police were approaching vehicles that were caught at red lights. This would be harmless enough if cops were only using the checkpoints to relay information to drivers. And if, of course, they were wearing proper protection in the form of  masks and gloves, and maintaining a distance of six feet or more. However, this does not seem to be the case in many instances. Asking drivers to produce documentation like registration and brake tags is setting them up for a ticket or charge without reasonable suspicion. Running a person’s license could also be a means to check for outstanding warrants, and could lead to arrests. Moreover, the lack of recommended health precautions is causing unnecessary risk of spreading COVID-19.

Increased Policing During COVID-19 Is Dangerous

Throughout COVID-19, New Orleans police have continued to arrest people for minor crimes. City Councilman Jason Williams has highlighted the dangers of continue to arrest people during COVID-19 for nonviolent and minor crimes. Individuals who are arrested during COVID-19 are typically held temporarily in close quarters with others and then released back out into the community. This can increase the danger of exposure to those people and their families, as well as law enforcement officers. The police checkpoints may be the latest in a pattern of behavior that is wrongfully conflating increased policing with improving safety for citizens during COVID-19. For now, at least, it seems that the checkpoints will continue. The NOPD website indicates that they will continue to conduct the checkpoints throughout the remainder of the  stay-at-home order. Everyone in New Orleans should take the stay-at-home order seriously. Recent data for new cases and falling death rates indicate that the quarantine is working. Now we have to keep it up. Residents should only leave their homes for essential needs, like groceries or prescriptions. When you are going on your essential runs, however, keep an eye out for police checkpoints around the city.

Have You Been Arrested or Charged With a Crime?

If you or someone you know has been arrested or charged with a  crime, Bloom Legal can help. We remain open through the COVID-19 quarantine, and have been helping people deal with warrants and the closed courts since the beginning. We can assist in getting people out of jail as quickly as possible to avoid potential contagion. Contact us for a free consultation about your case. Our operators are available 24/7 to take your call.

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