CRESTVIEW — The Crestview Police Department announced Tuesday it will roll out a program offering pizza to safe drivers. The program originally involved pulling over drivers and offering a certificate for a free pizza. Following social media criticism the department removed the traffic-stop component.
Food From the Fuzz, as CPD calls it, would offer a free pizza from Papa Murphy’s for motorists who officers observe following safe driving practices. They include wearing a seat belt, maintaining a safe driving distance and observing the speed limit.
People have shared the CPD Facebook post announcing the program more than 1,000 times. They've also left more than 800 comments, some questioning the legality of the program.
According to a CPD media release, officers would have been allowed to initiate a traffic stop if they observe a motorist meeting the criteria of a safe driver. Drivers who do not wish to participate in the program could then inform the officer they're opting out.
“You are saying you will pull people over with no probable cause, but you will not release them or let them opt out of the program until their information is clear and the inside of their vehicle has been visually inspected,” TJ Taylor commented on the CPD's Facebook post.
The CPD release said that if drivers opt out of the program, they would be allowed to leave “under most circumstances.”
“This is a completely consensual program,” Police Chief Tony Taylor said. “The first words out of the officer’s mouth will be, ‘Do you want to participate in this?’ If the answer is, ‘No,’ the driver is free to leave on the spot.”
T. Martin Knopes, a defense attorney based in Crestview, said the program might be problematic.
“I think they’re putting themselves in a sticky situation,” Knopes said. "What would be the basis for pulling you over?”
The CPD release also said if a driver’s documentation obtained during the stop is not valid, or the officer “notices openly visible unlawful behavior or materials,” the driver would be subject to “proper law enforcement action.”
One fear expressed via social media is the program being an excuse for the CPD to make more traffic stops and catch drivers engaging in unlawful behavior without reasonable suspicion. Knopes said if a traffic stop is found to be unlawful, evidence obtained from that stop should not be admitted in court.
“We have a right to be free from government interference,” Knopes said. “I don’t care if you’re (going to) give me a pizza or a gift certificate to Ruth’s Chris. Don’t bother me.”
The ACLU of Florida expressed similar concerns on its Facebook page.
“To pull someone over, the police must have reason to believe that the driver has committed a traffic violation or that the driver or a passenger is involved in a crime,” the post said. “Without that, it violates the Fourth Amendment to pull someone over.”
Brian Hughes, CPD public information officer, said the department is in the process of tweaking the program and possibly scrapping the idea to pull motorists over. The CPD will send out a media release outlining any program changes.
Community Services Officer Sam Kimmons pitched the idea after seeing news reports of other police departments running similar programs. The police department in Uniontown, Ohio has run a holiday promotion the past two years, giving $100 a day to a random motorist officers deem a safe driver during the Christmas season.
The CPD said the program was intended to give drivers an incentive to practice safe driving habits.
“There are always lots of complaints about the traffic situation here in Crestview,” Taylor said. “We’re trying to do something positive for good drivers.”
The program is voluntary, the department said, and most of the negative comments on social media came from people outside the area. There were supportive comments, praising the police department and Officer Kimmons specifically.
“Love Sam and all of our Crestview police,” Jean Waite Blair commented. “Keep up the good work.”
For motorists who opt in to the program and are cleared as safe drivers, officers will present them with a certificate for a “FAVES” pizza from Papa Murphy’s.
“If you don’t want to participate in the program, if everything checks out, you’re free to go,” Taylor said. “But who wants to pass up a free pizza?”