A new federal bill seeks to install rules that could have prevented the death of Corey Jones, 31, a Palm Beach County resident and church musician who was shot and killed by a Palm Beach Gardens plainclothes officer, Nouman Raja.
Dubbed the “Corey’s Law,” introduced by members of the Palm Beach County Congressional Delegation, the bill would ban plainclothes officers in unmarked vehicles from conducting traffic stops. The legislation would also make it possible to withhold federal grant money from police departments that allow plainclothes officers in unmarked cars to engage in routine traffic stops.
Lake Worth community activist and social worker, Ludlow Beecher expressed enthusiasm about the proposed legislation.
“While I understand the need for using plainclothes police officers and detectives in investigating certain crimes, this practice can be a disadvantage for the police and the public in traffic stops,” says Beecher. “How many residents are going to react positively to someone who stops them on the highway, or street, who is dressed in plain clothes. You just are not sure if the person who stops you is really a police officer.”
Beecher’s co-worker Tiffany Moore said, “I would never stop day or night if someone dressed in plainclothes tried to stop me on the road. I would rather drive to a police station. This law is surely needed.”
Miami police officer Wayne Clovis, however, disagrees that plainclothes officers do not function well in one-on-one encounters with the public.
“A police officer dressed in uniform usual commands more positive reaction than one dressed in plain clothes,” notes Clovis.
The law may also not be relevant for the majority of South Florida police departments, as “plainclothes police officers are not usually assigned to traffic patrol duties,” says Clovis. “But it’s not unusual for police in plain clothes to make a traffic stop if they witness a traffic violation, but then he should brandish his police identification on making the stop.”
The “Core Laws” bill was originally drafted by Congressman Hasting, himself a former judge, who said the law makes “common sense, as it will secure the safety of police officers and citizens” in traffic stops. Hasting said he believes if Raja was wearing a uniform, Jones would have been aware he was a police officer and his death could have been avoided. The congressman said he’s optimistic the legislation would successfully advance to become law, which would be applicable to police departments nationwide.
Jones’ death created strong public backlash against Raja and the Palm Beach Garden’s police. In the aftermath of the shooting, Raja was fired. Based on the urgings from the local community, the Palm Beach Gardens Police Department agreed to also equip police officers with body cameras. Last week, the department’s Police Chief Stephen Stepp announced an approved $262,296 budget to purchase and implement body cameras. Stepp also said the department is reviewing its policy regarding the use of plainclothes officers.