David R. Henderson  

11-99 Foundation: Buying Protection

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I live in California, where I often see license plate frames carrying the words, "Lifetime Member, 11-99 Foundation." The frames are usually on newer-model luxury cars. I finally got curious enough to look up what the 11-99 Foundation is. Here's a paragraph from a 2008 Los Angeles Times article:

The foundation, based in Fullerton, draws its name from the emergency police radio code for "officer needs assistance." It has taken in millions of dollars in tax-free donations for more than 25 years and used the money to aid families of CHP [California Highway Patrol] employees.

The Times article is titled, "Can drivers buy CHP leniency?"

Here are the opening four paragraphs of the LA Times story:

It was the kind of move that would usually mean a ticket for a young guy in a tricked-out BMW: unsafely zipping around a truck and another vehicle -- which happened to be a CHP cruiser -- while zooming down the road.

But rather than getting slapped with a fine last year on U.S. 101 south of San Francisco, Nick Palefsky was let go with a warning.

"He said, 'Next time, be a little bit more cautious,' " Palefsky recounted in a recent interview. It was one of four occasions in the last three years in which Palefsky, 22, said he was stopped by California Highway Patrol or local police officers; only once did he receive a ticket.

Palefsky believes a license plate frame proclaiming membership in the California Highway Patrol 11-99 Foundation helped him avoid the tickets.


The reporter, Christian Berthelsen, appears to be a good reporter: he doesn't draw conclusions that go beyond the evidence.

However, do a search on 11-99 Foundation and you'll come up with evidence that some cops do show leniency. In an on-line forum discussion of fake 11-99 plates, for example, one member, apparently a southern California cop, who ends with this statement, "Everyone tires to work an angle, then they blame me for holding them accountable... It's like I'm dealing with my teenagers all over again," earlier made this statement: "Unless you have the I.D. in hand when (not if) I stop you, no love will be shown." In other words, he admits that he will show leniency if the person with the frame is a bona fide payer.

One reason I find this interesting is that when I advocate private police and courts, people often respond with statements like "You want rich people to be able to buy their way out of legal problems." Well, it appears that to some extent that happens now. It's just that the prices are probably way higher when governments run the system.


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COMMENTS (7 to date)
bacon_wrapped writes:

I purchased the Veteran license plate available here in California to increase my chances of getting out of tickets.

It's worked so far and I have had them for ten years now, since I got out of the Navy. FYI, you don't actually need to be Veteran to buy them.

Emily writes:

If this sort of behavior is going to happen, do we want the price to be higher or lower? If the behavior this lets you get away with is behavior that no one should get fined for, I guess I want the price to be low. But if it's behavior that you actually should be fined for, maybe I want the price to be higher.

Andrew_FL writes:

Eh, traffic law enforcement is a revenue making scam anyway.

Eric Falkenstein writes:

I'm shocked that public servants respond to selfish incentives. What's next, economists found to appreciate flattery?

foobarista writes:

I'll be impressed with the cops if they actually give each other tickets when they break traffic laws. Until then, it's a racket and a violation of the Titles of Nobility clause of the Constitution.

Also, most of those entities that claim to raise money for cops or cops' families actually give very little, but have hugely-paid executives. Yet another "non-profit" racket.

Silas Barta writes:

But the difference is that in California you can voice your opinion about the practice of "buying leniency" at a public hearing on the subject.

I don't know if I'm being sarcastic here.

Ricardo writes:

"In other words, he admits that he will show leniency if the person with the frame is a bona fide payer."

I read that comment thread differently... I read it as saying that this particular officer is willing to show leniency to other police officers, and is complaining that non-officers are driving with plates that should be reserved for officers. So if you don't have an LEO ID handy, don't bother to use the plates.

This is of course a much more damaging reading than yours. It's one thing to be able to buy your way out of a ticket, because anyone with money can do it. It's much worse when that privilege is extended only to LEOs.

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