In a surprise move our state legislature did succeed in passing a gang bill during this session. The only problem is that it’s the wrong one.
Unlike the failed HB 1126, which would have disrupted gang activity through injunctions, Senate Bill 5242 will now be a tool for outlaw motorcycle groups to circumvent our state traffic laws. This measure has passed through our legislature, been signed by the governor and been added to RCW 43.101 as of April 13.
The bill was written because our state officials agree that law enforcement officers have been unfairly profiling motorcycle riders, and enough is enough. After some focused thought on the matter, my best attempt at an eloquent response is, “Huh?”
If police officers have shown any special interest in targeting motorcyclists for extra enforcement, then that would be news to me. Along with many of my fellow police officers, I am a motorcycle rider and enthusiast. About the only consistent comment I hear when police officers contact riders is, “Nice bike.”
Nevertheless, I am pretty sure I know who sold our lawmakers on this fiction—the aforementioned outlaw motorcycle groups. These are not your “Wild Hogs,” as portrayed by John Travolta and his crew. These are clubs such as the Bandidos and Hell’s Angels that, like our local criminal street gang the Hilltop Crips, have been identified as a criminal organization. Like the Crips, the outlaw clubs have been the target of federal investigations as a result of narcotics trafficking and violence. Gangs and outlaw clubs share a similar mindset, as evidenced by the typical Facebook page of a local Bandido who described one of his interests as “taking care of snitches.” Unlike the Crips, the outlaw motorcycle clubs have some Hollywood cache and an excellent P.R. machine.
Back to the new state law.
The new code defines motorcycle profiling as the “illegal use of the fact that a person rides a motorcycle or wears motorcycle-related paraphernalia as a factor in deciding to stop and question, take enforcement action, arrest, or search a person or vehicle with or without a legal basis.” It establishes the requirement for training academy cadets on the evils of motorcycle and further requires all police manuals to cover this issue as well.
What the new law will do, in effect, is muddy the legal water. Here’s an example of how bad this could get.
Take a standard arrest scenario: an officer makes a legitimate traffic stop for a red light violation and discovers that the motorcycle rider has a warrant. Subsequent to this arrest a search of his person reveals an unlicensed firearm and narcotics. The rider is booked on these felony violations and receives a court date.
In court the rider’s attorney claims that his client was profiled for riding a motorcycle. The attorney demonstrates that the officer failed to receive the approved academy training (even though the officer may have attended the academy twenty years prior), and then points out that the policy manual’s coverage of motorcycle profiling is insufficient. This could very well lead to a precedent which might be quite detrimental to public safety.
If a defense attorney is successful in criminal court the next step, approximately five nanoseconds later, will be a civil lawsuit against the officer and his agency. At that point city, county and state law enforcement agencies might all be subject to class action lawsuits. All thanks to our state legislature.
For all the efforts made by our lawmakers in Olympia, this new law seems the least necessary and the most capable of harm. It is so far out of whack that I am truly scratching my head and wondering…
Am I missing something here?