The AP reports:
Motorists may be in for a surprise if they spot flashing red lights in their rearview mirrors in this Sacramento suburb [Rancho Cordova] during the holiday season.
Police are stopping law-abiding motorists and rewarding their good driving with $5 Starbucks gift cards.
A traffic officer came up with the idea to "promote the holiday spirit and enhance goodwill between the traffic unit and the motoring public," police Sgt. Tim Curran said....
Sweet, but unconstitutional, it seems to me. A police officer's flashing red lights at a driver, which causes the driver to support, constitutes a seizure — a situation "when the officer, by means of physical force or show of authority, has in some way restrained the liberty of a citizen." Under the Fourth Amendment, such seizures must be reasonable, which generally means (for brief seizures) either that there's reasonable suspicion that the seized person has committed a crime (including a traffic infraction), or that there's some administrative need mandating a particular non-law-enforcement search or seizure system (such as airport screening). Neither is present here, so the stop violates the Fourth Amendment.
Plus, despite my first reaction above, it really isn't so sweet. A police officer is giving you a fright, taking up your time, and likely slowing down other drivers (who are concerned about safety, or who are stuck behind other drivers who are gawking).
As importantly, the police officer is exercising his coercive authority over you. That he's doing it to be nice doesn't change the fact that for the few moments that you're being pulled over, your liberty is being restrained, however briefly. Some such restraints on liberty have to be tolerated, but it seems to me that for each there should be a very good reason. A pat on the back does not, I think, qualify as a very good reason.
For a related story from five years ago, see here. Thanks to Bruce Moldovan for the pointer. Actually, sounds like the sort of thing they'd do in Moldova, not in the Land Of The Free ....
UPDATE: The winner is commenter WHOI Jacket: "When the police state comes to America, it will be holding a Double Mocha Latte."