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Police Officers: Public Servants, or the City's Revenue Hounds?
By definition, a public servant is a person who serves the public in some way, shape, or form. One is to assume, then, that a public servant has the public's best interest in mind. Sadly, this is not the case.
It has been my displeasure over the past year or so to interact with both police officers and parking patrol officers who made it very clear that their main concern was bringing in revenue for the city or state. Shocking, I know, but very true. This image that law enforcement wants to maintain of being heroes and being there to protect and serve is eclipsed by their collective desire to write tickets in order to bring in revenue. It's all part of the job, you say? Well, I can certainly agree that if a citizen is deserving of a ticket, then yes, it is part of an officer's job as a protector and public servant. The problem is that writing tickets seem to take center stage for officers and sergeants are even offering prizes and rewards for the cop who hands out the most tickets. It's become a contest. It is no longer a public service.
Issuing Parking Tickets at Your Own Home
This seems a bit extreme, doesn't it? What exactly is the public service being performed here? This is not like getting a parking ticket while parking downtown on a crowded street under a sign that says, "No Parking." This type of situation seems odd and yet, here in my hometown of Kansas City, that is exactly what is happening. Note that the tickets aren't the result of a neighbor calling the parking police on another neighbor, which does happen, but cannot be tied in to the greed of law enforcement. No, a series of sweeps are being conducted here where a parking patrol officer goes right down the block and leaves a ticket on any car they find in violation.
One has to ask, though, what public service is being conducted here, if the people receiving the ticket are being fined for petty violations that they didn't even know existed? What's worse, these officers are not coming to the door and informing the resident of the violation or even giving them a warning or opportunity to correct the problem before handing out the ticket. This is hardly a public service. This seems more in line with the sole purpose of bringing in revenue, and it is disgusting.
Why Not Reach Out to the Community?
Good question, and one I posed to the Office of Community Complaints here in Kansas City, Missouri just this month in regards to a parking ticket I received for parking in my own driveway. The response I got might shock you, but it will more likely unnerve you. I asked specifically why the officer who left a ticket on my windshield didn't just come to the door and ask that I move my car. I had no idea that parking in that part of my driveway was a violation. The representative at the Office of Community Complaints said:
Going to the door would be a courtesy. An officer may do that if he wants to, but he is not required to do so because his main objective is to bring in revenue.
As a citizen, am I wrong to feel disgusted by that statement? Here another public servant is acknowledging what I have suspected for some time. But parking patrol officers are not the only ones whose main concern is bringing in revenue.
What's a Good Reason to Get Pulled Over?
Apparently, a police officer doesn't really need a good reason to pull someone over, he just needs to pull you over and worry about the reason later. I found this out after being pulled over numerous times because I placed my license plate stickers in the far right corner of the plate instead of in the middle which is where the DMV suggests that the sticker go. The sticker is current and bright green, so it is clearly visible--and a license plate is not a billboard, so it can be quickly scanned by the human eye. Regardless, I have been pulled over six times since June, 2011, just so the officer would have a reason to run my information. Of course, the officer would always state the reason for which I was being pulled over as being that my sticker was in the "wrong" place. There is no law that states where a sticker should go, by the way, only that it need be on the plate. Only once have I been issued a ticket out of those six times. It was a $10 ticket, for not wearing my seat belt, which I tried to explain to the officer was broken. He said I could, "tell it to the judge," or just pay the ticket. Sounds like an easy way to get $10 out of me because I'm not going in to court for a $10 ticket.
Tickets Mean Revenue
That is what it boils down to. There have been countless articles and news reports of police sergeants or captains telling their officers to "crack down" on civilians in order to bring in more revenue, as if this is in some way something to be proud of. Big cities like New York, for example, can collect upward of $624 million dollars a year in parking ticket revenue alone! I don't think I am alone when I say that this is not respectable or ethical. This is literally highway robbery. Law enforcement knows the average citizen will just pay the ticket. Who wants to spend a day in court fighting a ticket you are sure to lose? So what else can one do?
Filing a complaint at your local Office of Community Complaints is one proactive way to voice your anger. Voicing it at a town hall or neighborhood meeting is another. City officials need to know that this is not an ethical or fair way to collect revenue and offering prizes for handing our tickets compromises an officers duty to the community. Fighting a ticket in court may not get you anywhere, but filing a complaint will. Get your neighbors together and go in on the same day to voice your concern. Whether you have been a victim of this scheme or have seen it happen too often for it not to matter, it's time that we as citizens take back the control we need to have over our public service officials. Their first concern should be the community well being, not bringing in revenue through ticketing unsuspecting civilians.
Am I Against All Tickets?
No, of course not. I think officers should continue to be able to write tickets--I think there is a more ethical way to do it, though. First of all, it can't be a contest. Secondly, revenue can't be their main concern. Finally, in the case of an officer writing a ticket for your car in front of your house--he should at least come to the door and offer a warning first. That's the ethical thing to do. An officer should afford a citizen the opportunity to make it right if at all possible, before issuing a ticket.
Things don't change overnight. It has taken decades for our law enforcement officials to become this corrupt. It could take as long to repair the damage, but it has to start somewhere. Simply getting mad and paying the ticket hoping that next time, you'll be ready, won't work. I strongly urge any concerned citizen reading this to go to their Office of Community Complaints and voice your concern. It's time for change.