Feathered Bastard

Univision "Bait Car" Gotchas Glendale Cop: PD Cries Foul

Univision may have inadvertently stumbled upon the next great reality show, one that should be filmed and produced right here in the Valley of the Sun.

They should call it, "Barrio Bait Car," a reference to the TruTV reality show of a similar name, which lures car thieves with an unattended, unlocked vehicle, one that features a hidden camera ensconced in the dashboard, recording the poor sap's every move.

Except in this bilingual version, a hooptie with a Hispanic in the driver's seat, a Radio Campesina bumpersticker on the back, and a big ol' dent in the side serves as the fishing lure for the Sand Land version of Officer Friendly.

According to the segment, which aired recently, it takes about five minutes for Glendale Police Officer Jamie Nowatzki to pull Univision producer Alberto's bait car, supposedly for the violation of "impeding traffic."

As soon as Alberto's car has stopped, Univision reporter Andrea Sambuccetti sandbags Nowatzki, who eventually cuts Alberto loose with a warning after being caught on camera.

The Glendale Police Department was not amused by Univision's Cámara Indiscreta, and issued a statement on Friday (see below) complaining that the aired video looked like it had been "heavily edited and did not show the entire incident."

Certainly, it's difficult to see from the video any traffic violation occurring. Did we miss something. or was the Univision producer pulled over for DWB, "driving while brown"?

I phoned Sambuccetti, who referred me to Mirna Cuoto, a senior producer with Univision in Miami. She said the network stands behind Sambuccetti's piece.

"We showed the relevant parts of the video," Cuoto told me. "There's no basis for [the claim of] impeding traffic."

Cuoto said that the station will be posting more video from the incident on its website, after it responds to a request for all of the video from the Glendale Police Department.

"We were never saying that it was racial profiling," Cuoto stated. "We just asked the question...and let people make up their own minds."

Without making any final judgment until more of the video is released, I have to say I like the idea of doing reverse stings like this. It's something many in the activist community have thought of, but have yet to implement, as far as I know.

Potentially, it could act as a legal check by the citizenry on law enforcement, as long as Senate Bill 1070 remains in effect.

SB 1070 requires cops to look into a detainee's immigration status if there's reasonable suspicion to believe the person is undocumented.

Thing is, any cop can follow any car for a few minutes and find some reason to pull it over.

Which is where the possibility of racial profiling rears its head. The fear in the Latino community is that cops will find a reason to stop Hispanics, just to check their immigration status.

It happens, and a lot of nativists want it to happen.

But if activists started doing this bait car thing on a regular basis, documenting everything that occurs, law enforcement organizations might end up begging the state legislature to repeal SB 1070.

At the very least, it would give any ill-intentioned cops out there some second thoughts about using pretextual stops to ethnically-profile Latinos.

And it sure would be fun to watch.

The Glendale Police Department's Friday statement on the Univision segment:

The Glendale Police would like to take this opportunity to address the video production that aired on the Univision "Premier Impacto" news segment by expressing our disappointment in how our officer and department were portrayed.

Here is a summary of what actually occurred based on the information available to us:

On October 30th, in the early afternoon hours, Officer Jamie Nowatzki, a 30 year police veteran, was on duty assigned to traffic enforcement. Officer Nowatzki was in a fully marked patrol vehicle working the area of 6750 N. 59th Avenue when he observed a traffic violation. From Officer Nowatzki's vantage point, he clearly observed a red sedan at a stop sign for an unreasonable amount of time, causing two cars to drive into the opposing lane to get around the vehicle. For several minutes, Officer Nowatzki observed this Arizona Title 28 violation of impeding traffic, and how other drivers were now being affected by the red sedan including one of the other drivers even honking its horn at the red sedan for blocking traffic.

When the red sedan turned north onto 59th Avenue, Officer Nowatzki initiated a traffic stop and made contact with the driver in a professional and courteous manner, requesting information appropriate for a traffic stop. While contacting the driver, Officer Nowatzki was approached by a reporter demanding answers about the stop. Officer Nowatzki appropriately answered her questions.

Concluding the stop, Officer Nowatzki used his discretion by issuing a warning for the violation. In compliance with policy, the Public Information Office was notified reference the media contact. We pride ourselves on having good relationship with media. The PIO office made attempts to contact the local Univision affiliate to provide them information, answer any questions, and to make ourselves available for comment. The local Univision affiliate never returned our calls.

The Glendale Police Department learned about the Univision video production that aired just a few days ago. The "Primer Impacto" video that was aired appeared to be heavily edited and did not show the entire incident, including the amount of time the red sedan impeded traffic to the exchange between Officer Nowatzki and the driver.

Today we have successfully contacted management from the local Univision affiliate and we were advised that they had no involvement in the production. A local Univision manager advised us that it was a production involving the national Univision network only. The local manager provided us with a national contact late this afternoon. We will continue to attempt to make contact with a responsible representative from the national Univision network concerning this matter.

The Glendale Police Department is standing behind Officer Nowatzki and the appropriate actions he took. We again want to emphasize our severe disappointment at the editing used for this video production that appears to be trying to 'create news' by being misleading, inflammatory, and apparently intends to portray the Glendale Police Department in a negative light by suggesting we engage in racial profiling. Nothing could be further from the truth.

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Stephen is a former staff writer and columnist at Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Stephen Lemons