Monday, December 7, 2015
‘But Officer, Don’t You See My Windshield Decal?’
By ROGER M. GRACE
Twenty-Fifth in a Series
Honorary badges. Courtesy cards. Low-numbered license plates.
All of these items, discussed in previous columns, had the potential of helping the bearer get out of a traffic ticket.
There were other devices in the past. Some still exist.
The official policy of law enforcement agencies today, uniformly, is that no favoritism is to be shown based on a motorist’s display of indicia of pro-law enforcement sentiment. Yet, from numerous conversations—all on a “not-for-attribution basis”—I’ve discerned that, in practice, traffic-law transgressors are able to avoid citations based on such displays if the offenses are minor and they’re not belligerent.
In the 1950s, stretching into the 1960s, there were law enforcement decals that were placed on car windshields, on the driver’s side…where it would be seen by an officer who was about to write a ticket.
My father, who gave discounts in his electronics store to Los Angeles policemen (including Mayor-to-be Tom Bradley), had one. I remember his recounting that he once queried an officer as to whether the decal had any utility and was told something along the lines of:
“If I gave you a ticket with that on your windshield, I’d be in big trouble.”
My late father-in-law also had one, my wife recounts.
Retired Court of Appeal Justice Jack Goertzen tells me he once gave a talk, while a deputy attorney general, to a small group of motorcycle officers and, a few days later, received one of the decals in the mail. (He gained that post in 1957 and left it in 1968 when he was appointed to the Los Angeles Municipal Court.)
This was not the species of decal that facilitated Kenneth Bianchi, one of the two Hillside Stranglers, to lure female prey to his car. That was a decal with the Los Angeles County seal on it which Bianchi received from a deputy to then-Supervisor Pete Schabarum.
The one I’m referring to, as I have pictured it, had a motorcycle officer depicted on it and featured two flags. From that description, a friend of mine, attorney Brent Braun, a former FBI higher-up in Los Angeles, was able to identify the outfit that issued the decals as the Municipal Motorcycle Officers Association of California (“MMOC”).
I went to that group’s website and saw its logo. Yep, that was what appeared on the decal on my father’s car.
I remember that my father alluded to a directive that had gone out that the decals were to be stripped from windshields. (He didn’t comply until he sold the car. After all, the purchaser hadn’t extended courtesies to the LAPD.)
That recall of decals was, in all probability, tied to a 1959 statute which created Vehicle Code §26708, barring placement of decals on the driver’s side of the windshield.
There were apparently political decals in 1964, though I have no recollection of them. An April 19, 1964 article in the Los Angeles Times relates:
“The California Highway Patrol is cautioning motorists to be careful where they display election-year windshield stickers.
“All signs should be confined to the right hand side of the windshield within a 7-sq.-in. area at the lower right hand corner, said Lt. R. H. Rumsey, acting commander of the patrol’s West Los Angeles area.
“Stickers may also be attached to the rear side windows if they are placed so they will not obstruct the driver’s clear view of approaching traffic, Rumsey said.”
Sec. 26708 was subsequently changed to permit, as it does now, “signs, stickers, or other materials that are displayed in a five-inch square in the lower corner of the windshield nearest the driver.”
Mark Murray, president of MMOC, advises:
“I have been a member of MMOC since the early 80’s and have had no issue displaying MMOC or any stickers on my vehicle.
“The laws to which you refer were… way before my time.
“MMOC issues decal stickers to members who are paid Active, Associate and Honorary.”
MMOC is no longer offering decals to anyone who is not a member, Murray says. However, 15 other items bearing its logo, on a bright yellow field, are available for sale, online.
For only a dollar, you can get a magnetized round metallic piece, on which the logo is emblazoned; it can be placed on a car’s center mirror, on the side facing outward. Also available, for $5: a license plate holder with “M.M.O.C.” imprinted on it.
One item that the group is selling online only to members and associate members (who pay $36 in dues annually) is a patch with the logo, 9.5 inches in diameter. If you are yearning to get one of those patches, priced at $20, or to get a decal, and if you’re a lawyer or judge—congratulations!—you qualify for associate membership.
Whether an officer in a patrol car nowadays would have any idea what the MMOC is, well, that’s another matter.
Thomas Cacciatore, a past president of the Italian American Lawyers Association, tells of another windshield sticker:
“I remember being solicited by a police officers association but I don’t think it was the police protective league. This would’ve been the mid-1970s.
“They were asking for a contribution of money (I don’t remember the amount) and it would admit a couple to a variety show somewhere in Hollywood and they would send a gold sticker that identified the person as being a supporter of that police association. The idea was to put it on the inside of the rear window, and one could avoid parking and traffic citations. My ex partner and I did it one year but never thereafter.”
Another former bar leader, who doesn’t want to be named, says:
“Even today, some local police departments provide stickers and decals to ‘supporters,’ and often indicate that no special treatment will be given or is implied. But, to the contrary, the police and the recipients expect that those to whom the recognition has been given will be granted special privileges.”
The attorney supplies this shot of a decal on a windshield:
I went to the La Verne POA website earlier this year and found that the group was peddling its decal, along with a lapel badge, for $100. For higher amounts, there were added items.
It said, whimsically:
“Possession of Support Decals will not reflect preferential treatment during enforcement contacts, but will still allow the bearer to go through any green light in town!”
But between then and now, the website has been changed. No more decals.
•License Plate Frames
There used to be license plate frames that read, “Member, 11-99 Foundation.” “11-99” is the radio code for “officer needs assistance”—and the foundation provides assistance to officers—financial assistance. The plates were given to those donating $5,000 or more.
The Sept. 27, 2008 edition of the Los Angeles Times includes an article bearing the headline, “Can a License Plate Frame Get Speeding Drivers Off the Hook?” It says:
“The frame has been called ‘the ultimate speeding ticket solution in California’ on a Mercedes-Benz chat board. And recently, the frames have been popping up for sale on Craigslist and eBay, for $250 to $1,000. The resales have angered the foundation, but it has so far been unable to stop them.
“ ‘There’s definitely a perceived benefit, as well as a real benefit,’ said one online seller, who asked that his name not be used. ‘There’s this real tangible benefit of possibly getting favorable treatment from a CHP officer.’ ”
The story had an effect even before it was in print. In gathering information for the article, then-Times staff writer Christian Berthelsen (now with the Wall Street Journal) sought a comment from CHP Commissioner J.A. Farrow, who looked into the matter of the frames, and reported back that he was “surprised” and “bothered” by what he found. A week before the article came out, Farrow had secured agreement from the foundation to stop issuing the frames by the end of the year.
The foundation issued a press release saying:
“To protect the CHP 11-99 Foundation’s marks and good name, on September 15, 2008, the members of the CHP 11-99 Foundation’s Board of Directors voted to phase out the distribution of ‘Member’ license-plate frames to donors, effective January 1, 2009. The members of the Board also directed staff to more aggressively pursue illegal online sales of the 11-99 Foundation’s license-plate frames and develop a program to address the status of all ‘Member’ license-plate frames currently in circulation.”
By ceasing to issue the frames, according to a past board chair quoted in the press release, members of the public would not be fooled into thinking that fake ones being offered on eBay and elsewhere were genuine.
But, the frames are back.
They go to life members, only. For $2,500, you can get one frame, along with a leather wallet with a personalized brass ID card, a plastic ID card, and a wall plaque. Your spouse can become a member for $1,000.
There are four life-membership categories, going up to $25,000, which will get you two frames and a plethora of other goodies.
A Sept. 28, 2008 Associated Press dispatch, following up on the Times story, says that “Commissioner J.A. Farrow worries the frames create a perception that contributors to the California Highway Patrol 11-99 Foundation are getting beneficial treatment from CHP officers.”
Farrow is still the CHP commissioner.
I sent an e-mail seeking his comment on whether his thinking has changed since 2008 and, if not, whether the 11-99 Foundation is offering the plates over his protest. I received a statement from the CHP’s “director of communications” that was non-responsive. It says the foundation is independent of the CHP and the CHP doesn’t control it. That’s in contrast to the straight-forward statements Farrow was capable of personally making seven years ago.
If use of the 11-Foundation frames in 2008 implied influence with the CHP, it still does in 2015, and Farrow should be willing to repudiate it.
There are license plate frames with KMA-367 on them. From 1948-82, that was the call sign for the Los Angeles Police Department frequency.
The frames were first sold only at the Los Angeles Police Revolver and Athletic Club gift shop at the Police Academy. The club’s non-profit fundraising organ now sells them online for $12 each, with $8 charged for shipping, and $1.80 in tax. Whether that $21.80 investment will ward off a ticket, I know not.
On eBay, there’s a buy-it-now price of $9.99 for a frame, with free shipping. But “Los Angeles” is on the same line with “KMA-367,” a dead give-away that it’s not the Revolver and Athletic Club frame.
A different seller on eBay, in Valencia, is offering new “KMA-628” frames— relating to the erstwhile call sign of the Sheriff’s Department—for $44.97, with free shipping, while a competitor sells them on an automotive website for $25, shipping included.
Copyright 2015, Metropolitan News Company