Photo: csfotoimages (iStock)

What a mess. Like a kitten trapped in a yarn ball—except less cute—news about a free drink coupon promotion put on by the Tempe, Arizona police department was a tangled internet rat’s nest yesterday. Let’s pull these threads apart.

The first tweets and stories that began circulating online yesterday reported the Tempe, Arizona police would begin pulling over drivers who were obeying traffic laws, rewarding them with free hot or cold drink coupons valid at convenience chain Circle K. The backlash was swift, with citizens pointing out the clear flaws in this plan: First, no one wants to be delayed on their way to a destination just to earn a free gas-station coffee. Second, and more importantly, people of color pointed out that getting pulled over by the police can be an anxiety-producing situation, given the way racial minorities have been targeted by police.

But that wasn’t the full story. It wasn’t even the correct story. Contrary to what news outlets reported, the Tempe Police clarified that they will not be pulling people over to give them coupons, but will instead have conversations with them on foot. Said a Tempe police spokesman to the Arizona Republic: “It’s simply an educational campaign on scooter, bike and pedestrian safety.”

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“We’re not going to violate anyone’s 4th Amendment right, and that’s the big message,” Detective Greg Bacon with Tempe Police told Fox 10 Phoenix. “We’re not pulling people over. We are not stopping bicyclist riding down the street. We are not pulling subjects off of the sidewalks to talk to them. It’s merely walking up and saying ‘do you mind having a conversation with me? I noticed you have a bike helmet with you and we appreciate you being responsible and staying safe. so here’s a free coupon for a free drink’.”

There’s since been criticism that regardless of how it’s implemented, the program is a dumb use of police time and money. There’s also the reality that a free Circle K beverage coupon is hardly going to make most people’s days. You know what they’d probably rather have? A seamless commute without police praising them for their helmet.

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