Dear PoPville – Is it worth it to call the police on a diplomat?


Photo by PoPville flickr user sciascia

Dear PoPville,

This morning, as my wife and I were driving to work on 16th St, we noticed a black VW Jetta driving very agressively – speeding and swerving between lanes. The driver was wearing ear buds and didn’t seem too concerned with the other cars/bikes on the road. However, the car also had diplomatic plates. Is there any point in calling the cops on a driver like this or does his diplomatic immunity make this a fruitless gesture?

30 Comment

  • From what I read it’s pointless to report cars with diplomatic plates. There was an articles in the Times years ago about how illegally parked cars with diplomatic plates (UN) was frustrating because the city couldn’t do much about it.

  • Nope – still worth calling the police. As someone who previously worked in a foreign embassy (as a U.S. citizen) the police will send a ticket (if caught in the act) to the embassy in question and require them to pay out of their budget. Trust me, diplomats get chewed out for this. In the future, I would call the cops and give the license plate numbers and they should at least be able to give the corresponding embassy a call.

    • If a country receives foreign assistance from the US, the amount will be reduced by the amount of tickets accrued in NY and DC.

      Which on the one hand makes a point that diplomats need to pay up. But it’s the folks in that particular country who are harmed in the end.

    • That’s inaccurate at best: it depends entirely on the country in question. The Nordic countries take it very seriously and a few rare others do as well. US diplomats abroad are on part with some of the lesser parts of the former USSR in their behavior.

  • Out of curiosity, what exactly would the police do about an aggressive driver based purely on hearsay? I can’t imagine any action being taken here.

    • I think this is the first order problem. Police won’t do anything against aggressive drivers generally and certainly not on hearsay.

      Here’s a thought: Call or email the embassy. Not to complain. But as an FYI — It seemed dangerous and you thought they’d like to know since it reflects poorly on them. This works best if you have details so they know who to talk to.

    • If it’s a one-time offense they can’t do much, but when I complained recently (see below) I provided the license plate number and where I saw the guy driving like crazy several times and they had the cruisers out there. And he gave the cop who pulled him over an obnoxious response. Now they know him. They recognize his car, his plates and they’ll remember what he said. In any particular neighborhood there are regular officers and they remember things like that.

  • Diplomatic immunity is not absolute and, in fact, only covers acts related to one’s diplomatic duties. It’s pretty well stablished that traffic offenses don’t qualify.

  • Yes, it absolutely is worth contacting them over.

    There’s one who’s been driving like a maniac down my street recently. Blowing stop signs at very high speed — right around the corner from a school. I emailed the police — they had cruisers hanging out the next day. They got him for running a stop sign and ticketed him.

    I know it’s probably not as big of a deal for this guy to get a ticket as it is for me — but even if the embassy doesn’t scold him, it’s still a hassle for them to deal with.

    Having diplomatic immunity doesn’t mean police wont’ do their job — they’ll still pull over a car that is doing something dangerous. They may not be able to make long-term consequences stick, but they certainly can/should/will intervene in a dangerous situation. And having diplomatic immunity doesn’t mean that you get a driver’s license and the right to drive.

    And diplomatic immunity is not a blanket get-out-of-jail-free card for all offenses for anyone affiliated with an embassy. And embassies do try to be good neighbors — there are incidents of someone getting away with something truly outrageous using diplomatic cover, but I would imagine most embassies don’t want to incite the locals, or keep paying fines and they don’t want their staff getting hassled, particularly if it’s for something that’s just stupid — like repeatedly running stop signs.

    I got a fantastic response when I contacted the police, I would highly recommend doing it.

    • Also remember, diplomatic immunity is granted by the HOST country. So if the driver in question’s behavior is sufficiently bad, the US can request a waiver of immunity (like in the Georgian case mentioned in this thread) or if the Embassy in question refuses to waive immunity, then the USG can declare the offender persona non grata (PNG). Getting PNGed for stupid non work stuff is generally a career killer in most diplomatic services around the world. Remember, the license plate (D or S) then the two letter country code and then the number refers to a SPECIFIC car registered to a member of the Embassy. If there’s a D that person is a fully accredited diplomat. If it starts with an S, then its a Staffer (think the IT, HR, or other support personnel not actually doing diplomatic work) and they have only partial diplomatic immunity.

  • Certainly couldn’t hurt to write the embassy, and CC the State Dep’t. http://www.state.gov/s/cpr/what/dplmtc/c23558.htm (even though “Vehicular matters” are apparently exempted)

  • I’m a foreign official with diplomatic plates on my car, and I can assure you we don’t get any special treatment. I often even have the impression police in DC is out for us when it comes to parking tickets and other traffic violations.
    Tickets from speeding cameras arrive through the mail just like with everybody else. If we don’t pay the fines, State Department refuses to renew our plates. So this whole ‘diplomats get away with anything’ is a myth.
    Mind you, I’m not complaining, there should be no special treatment. Just don’t assume there is one immediately.

  • I worked for the UN in an Eastern European country. We had a driver that I always thought was cavalier and aggressive in his driving. He was on official UN business and killed a 20 year old woman in a crosswalk.

    The UN did not ask for immunity. He spent over 2 years in jail.

  • For some reason the Secret Service Uniformed Division handles traffic incidents in the DC area involving diplomats. Their non-emergency number is: 202-395-2020 It may be worth contacting them regarding this.

  • Call Det. Roger Murtaugh of LAPD. He will revoke diplomatic immunity.

  • Call the police. and Hopefuly Uniformed Secret Service will take over. besides, who ever said the Driver of the vehicle had dimplomatic immunity?

  • My roommate is a diplomat. We always joke that he has the right to kill whomever I want him to. Ha! But really, yes it would be worth your while. If they are driving recklessly I’m sure the officer can inform the embassy and if nothing else it will be enough to jeopardize their job, which I’m guessing is something they don’t want.

  • I think I’ve seen this guy a couple times on 66W in the mornings. He’s a terrible driver, cutting other people off and swerving through lanes. I see him with ear buds in all the time too. I keep forgetting to make note of his plate numbers, but it seems like he needs to get some sort of notice or he’s going to hurt somebody.

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