Washington State Patrol: Above the law?

For most people, it is illegal to take the license plates off one car and drive around with them affixed to another. Of course, Washington State Patrol troopers aren’t most people.

Perhaps it seems a small thing, but the actions of Trooper Bradford A. Moon serve as a reminder that police officers are not subject to the law. Motorist Dave Milbrandt raised the issue after he received a $247 ticket for speeding on Highway 4 near Longview, Washington. Trooper Moon, who wrote the ticket, was driving an unmarked Dodge Charger with Oregon plates taken from a car he owned. Moon’s superiors have expressed concern:

Moon, who removed the Oregon plates after the incident came to light, was trying to be creative in catching speeders but should have told his superiors, State Patrol Sgt. Randy Hullinger said Monday.

“It’s not typically something that is done,” Hullinger said.

We encourage our troopers to look at innovative ways to catch people,” he said, “but it’s always good to run innovative ideas past somebody else so we can consider all possible outcomes.

“He went out on his own. He was attempting to use some initiative to solve a problem, which is our job, but in this case it looks like maybe judgmentwise he should have run it by somebody else.”

Moon failed to consider that “the first thing the motoring public might think is, ‘Is this a police impersonator?’ ” Hullinger said.

When they see a nonstandard police car, we want people to understand that when all the lights go on … this is for real — but if there are Oregon plates on the car, there’s just that much more concern in the public’s eye it might not be a police car.”

Apparently, the thought of state patrol troopers breaking the law in the line of duty is not an issue for concern. According to the Associated Press, Trooper Moon will not face disciplinary action, and Washington State Patrol officials think the ticket should stand.

There are circumstances under which the police are within their right to break laws, or appear to break laws. Operating as a buyer for illegal gun sales or large quantities of cocaine, for instance. But Trooper Moon’s ploy, while it certainly seems minor, is important. That it is a minor offense suggests that it’s not really so important to calculate such a deception. If Moon stopped Milbrandt right where the speed zone occurs, that’s a fairly petty stop, anyway; the kind of thing that gets people muttering about cops who have to fill monthly quotas. To the other, if Milbrandt sped along without regard for the changing speed limit, it seems rather silly that the State Patrol would even need such deceptive measures to catch him.

An analogy would be prostitution stings. Busting a hooker is one thing, and, in the end, a debatable—at best—priority in many jurisdictions. But it would seem rather silly and untoward to actually bang the hooker first, and then arrest her.  Such behavior, to judge by the State Patrol’s regard for its officers breaking the law, would be just dandy.

Perhaps such a presumption is inappropriate, but the Washington State Patrol website does not seem to offer any information for public consumption regarding the standards of conduct or ethics required of its troopers. There is no mention of such information in the site map, and apparently question does not come up very frequently.