From Santa's e-mail bag: Q: An officer stopped me the other night because the light by my license plate was out. Is that even a law?
A: Yes. Section 24601 of the Vehicle Code says you must have a white light over your car's rear license plate so it's clearly visible from 50 feet away.
A few other not-so-well-known vehicle code violations include 2818 V.C. — can't drive through a cop's flare or cone pattern no matter how cool it would be; 21203 V.C. — people on bikes, skates or sleds can't hitch a ride by holding onto a car (sorry Marty McFly); 21464a V.C. — can't damage or knock down a historical marker; 21964 V.C. — it's a violation if someone other than a blind person carries a white cane down the street; 21850 V.C. — you can't possess more than four radar jamming devices (unless you're flying over enemy territory); 21959 V.C. — skiing or tobogganing across the street is prohibited; and 2470 V.C. — transporting inedible kitchen grease without the proper certificate can be a felony.
Q: My neighbor parks his car in front of my house every day even though I want to park there. That's my parking spot, right?
A: No, your neighbor has a right to park legally on the street in front of your home. The parking spots on residential streets are not assigned. He has to be on the right side of the road, within 18 inches of the curb, and 15 feet away from a fire hydrant. If the car looks abandoned, you can call our Partners unit and they will come out and begin the vehicle abatement process.
Q: A person was in the street trying to stop traffic on Elm Street to let the Parade of Lights floats park the other night. She wasn't a cop, so can she do that?
A: According to 21100 V.C., the only people who can direct traffic are those authorized by the local authority. They usually go through some sort of training. That would include our officers, volunteers and cadets. I'm sure she had the best of intentions, but standing in the street at night in the rain without any training, reflective vest or flashlight was dangerous.
Q: People come out early the day of the lights parade and stake out their territory by putting chairs and other things along the route. Can they do that?
A: Believe it or not, even though the lights parade is supposed to be a peaceful family event, occasionally officers have to deal with disputes over who got their chairs there first. The arguments have the same tone as astronauts fighting over who gets to plant the flag on the moon first.
As long as people are not obstructing the sidewalk with their chairs and the nearby business owners don't mind, we usually leave it up to the parade-goers to figure it out.
Q: I still see some political signs along the side of the road even though the election was a month ago. Aren't they supposed to take those things down by now?
A: As one of my professors at Davis once said, the day after politicians are elected, they begin running for re-election. Maybe some of the candidates are forgetful, or maybe they are getting a head start on 2012. No matter the reason, section 5405.3 of the California Outdoor Advertising Act says they have to take down the signs within 10 days of the election. Just so you know, the Outdoor Advertising Act is 90 pages long.
Q: There is a little white plane that buzzes low over the west side of town just about every Saturday and Sunday afternoon. It's sort of annoying. Is there something the police can do about it?
A: The recent wet weather had grounded the LPD squadron, so we might not be able to help you. Maverick and Goose, along with Ice Man and Slider, have been busy taking reports in our lobby.
Actually if the fly-bys continue to be a problem, the only thing you can do is get a good pair of binoculars and try to obtain the plane's N-number (license plate). Then call the local Federal Aviation Administration office. ("Negative, Ghostrider, the pattern is full.")
Any comments, questions or advice for Behind the Badge can be e-mailed to Jeanie Biskup at firstname.lastname@example.org; mailed to Lodi Police Department, 215 W. Elm St., Lodi, CA 95240; or asked by phone at 333-6864.