A Broward County sheriff’s deputy pulled a man over seconds after ordering him away for video recording, citing him for having an obstructed license plate.
A Fraternal Order of Police badge someone had given Michael Burns more than a decade ago, who said it used to keep him from getting pulled over.
That is, until he joined Cop Block as its Central Florida chapter.
Since then, it has gotten him pulled over several times, but he never received a citation until May, when he was pulled over by deputy Paul Sada who gave him a $95 citation.
Today, Burns will be in a Broward County courtroom to fight the ticket.
“I’ve spent $120 in gas so far to beat the charge,” said Burns, who has driven down from Lakeland twice to appear in court for this ticket, a five-hour drive he may have to do again considering this is only an arraignment.
The FOP badge is usually used by cops or family members of cops to show other cops they are part of the same gang and should be given special status.
But considering Burns had stopped his car and walked up to a canal bank to record deputies as they were chasing a group of young people away from where they had gathered to socialize, Pada knew he was not a cop.
When Pada first confronted Burns at the canal bank, he told him he would be allowed to record, but from further away where he wouldn’t be able to capture any video.
Burns got into his car and left because they had already chased everybody else out, so there was nothing left to record.
But Pada pulled up behind him, following him closely until he pulled him over a couple of minutes later, citing him for having an obstructed license plate.
It’s become the law enforcement version of the “Baby on Board” sign. Fastened to a rear license plate, that big union medallion proclaims to the world that a cop or a friend of cops is behind the wheel.
It’s also illegal.
The emblems, union and police officials say, are a way for officers to declare pride in their profession and their unions. Both law enforcement and union officials insist that the medallions do not guarantee a free ride for traffic transgressions.
But the approximately 3-inch medallions – badge-shaped for the Police Benevolent Association and round for the Fraternal Order of Police – often obscure some of the tag’s characters. And the very fact they are placed on the tag at all is against the law.
“Nothing shall be placed upon the face of a Florida plate except as permitted by law or by rule or regulation of a governmental agency,” Florida’s Uniform Traffic Control law states.
There is no exemption for private unions to take up space on license tags, said Peter Stoumbelis, assistant general counsel for the state Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. Conscientious traffic cops are put in the position of having to ticket their brethren for displaying a symbol designed to denote police status.
But do they?
“The law is there,” Stoumbelis said, “and all law enforcement officers are out there to enforce the law. If someone’s breaking the law, they’re going to write them up. It’s not a get-out-of-jail-free thing.”
Pat Hanrahan, vice president of the Broward County PBA, said some officers ignore union warnings not to affix the medallion to their tags. He knows a couple of union members who were ticketed for obscuring their plates with a PBA medallion.
“We tell them this doesn’t give you any special privileges,” Hanrahan said. “They should know better, and if they get caught, they get caught.”
But Burns likes to test the system, so he wants to hear it from the judge whether it’s legal or not.
“I’m going to ask the judge to dismiss it,” he said.