Police Reform—Part I
The Andy Griffith Show
The days when you could stroll down your neighborhood street and smile and wave to that friendly Sheriff Andy Taylor have long passed. Society has changed much from those simpler times. However, although society has made adjustments to a changing world, most police departments still cling to the beliefs, ideals and policies more appropriate for the 1950s.
The result of this lack of change in police culture (their weapons have changed) has resulted in a growing trend of violence toward average citizens. Because of better methods of recording events it may seem like this behavior is new, but it has been going on for some time. In the 1990s I began work on a book about police violence and corruption, but abandoned the project when I couldn’t find a publisher. To read the article the research generated visit a previous HUB page (http://jaywill.hubpages.com/hub/Dead-Men-Tell-No-Tales).
So the following is Part I of how to enhance our police departments and make them not only more efficient, but also make them a welcome part of the community rather than a feared enforcement army.
Traffic Ticket Poll
Do you believe police departments have a quota for writing tickets?
Part I—Remove traffic enforcement from police departments
Imagine you are a young inspired person who wants to help protect society from those who might wish to do it harm. You go through a month-long (or longer) regimen of training and hit the streets as a newly minted crime fighter. The first evil villain to cross your path? An elderly woman with a burned out tail light.
That’s right, you must spend the bulk of your time enforcing rules about cars. We don’t send the police out to arrest a person who has a tree in their yard that is about to fall on a neighbor's house; we don’t send police to nab a butcher who sells moldy hamburger; we don’t call out a swat team to track down an owner of a business that has a gas leak that fouls the drinking water. We do send police to fine someone who has a problem with his/her car.
Historically, police got handed traffic enforcement because cities either didn’t know who to give the responsibility to or didn’t want to spend the money to make a department that handled only that part of the law.
Did you know that although New York began registering some cars as early as 1901, it wasn’t until around 1935 that a majority of the states required driver’s licenses? (http://amhistory.si.edu/onthemove/exhibition/exhibition_8_2.html) Often, you could get a license without taking a test. For example, in California they required a license beginning in 1913, but didn’t require a test for it until 1927. Connecticut enacted first speed limit in 1901, but many states didn’t have a limit until the 1930s (http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/connecticut-enacts-first-speed-limit-law). In other words, traffic enforcement didn't become standardized until later.
No one really knew for sure what to do with this new problem that cropped up: increased car traffic. So they gave the job to the guys with nightsticks who really only wanted to go after murderers, bank robbers or other violent types.
The problem with police traffic stops is that people perceive them as threatening. For example, recent television ads in Texas show people freaking out when they notice the police in the rear view mirror (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g3luR7Qfprg).
Sure, it's upsetting to get a ticket since it costs money, but when that ticket comes from someone who is wearing a Gestopo-style black uniform and armed to the teeth, well, it makes the situation very tense.
So the way to improve this situation is to establish a city department that handles only traffic enforcement and allow police departments to handle real crime (Police Reform—Part II)
The name of this department could be anything from “Traffic Enforcement” to “Department of Transportation Control.” Anything except something with the word “police” in the title. The idea would be to strongly differentiate the two and to make this department as non-threatening as possible. Although enforcing the rules will result in a cost to the person who violates them, the attitude citizens should have toward the people doing this work should be similar to a meter reader who can cause your electric bill to go up.
Below are some points of consideration about this new department.
Ideas for the new Traffic Enforcement Department
• The uniforms should be non-threatening. No weapons; maybe polo shirts instead of starched, black button-downs; a color that stands out so it is easier for the public to find them in a crowd in case they are needed; equipment to carry includes an iPad or some handheld device to record violations and take pictures--but no weapons.
• They would log the violation into a database that would mail a notice to the violator. They could give a ticket to the actual person driving, but it’s only as a courtesy and only if it can be done in a non-threatening manner. The owner of the vehicle still gets a mail notice.
• This brings up an important point too. The “ticket” is always assigned to the owner of the vehicle. In other words if Dad lets his favorite son drive the car to the prom, if the son runs a red light, Dad will have to pay for the violation. This will make reporting car thefts all the more important. If the traffic enforcer (TE) discovers the car has been reported stolen, then the TE calls the police to give the information. Because the ticket is given to the owner, the person does not need to present ID because the TE already knows the owner's name (it is called vehicle registration).
• No-chase policy for speeders. Ticket does not need to be given if the TE is worried about confrontation. If not given in person, the mail notice is still utilized. The violator would be logged in and a phone message would go to the speeder IMMEDIATELY warning them to stop as well as notice of violation. If driver is discovered still speeding at a further point (first contact would warn next TE further ahead) a second violation logged and the TE would go to the car owner's address and find out if there was a reason for this violation (needed to go to hospital, etc.). If not, the car will be “booted” until the traffic violation is paid. To help promote safety have a way for citizens to report speeders anonymously. This notice would alert a TE who would try to verify it (i.e. go to a spot ahead of speeder) and then log in violation. The payment for speeding violations is different than others (see below) as this violation may be a bigger threat to safety of other motorists. It should be noted that if police are chasing someone (bank robber, etc.) it should be reported so that the TE could assist in reporting locations (but not chasing).
• Traffic violations would be added on to the county tax bill for vehicle registration. In other words person doesn't have to pay right away, but can in order to keep future bill down.
• No warrant for nonpayment. Many cities have been resorting to a form of debtor's prison concept to get outstanding violations. This country was founded by people who wanted to get away from that odious concept, so we need to avoid it completely.
• The way around the above is this: when the tax bill is due, if the person involved can’t make any payment (there should be a way to have partial payments) the car is booted. If after a set time (two months, etc.) the car is impounded. After six months car is sold for payment. During this time the owner’s license is also suspended.
• Somehow, this bill should follow the person. i.e. if the person moves to another state that state will collect it. Maybe get a percentage.
• The only time police are called into action are cases where it is determined the driving might cause public harm. It should be a joint effort between TE and police to try and de-escalate situation. For example if they discover a drunk driver, car is booted until fine is paid, driver taken home, include mandatory AA-type class.
• Drivers may appeal a violation by going before a panel. The panel would be comprised of half city employees (traffic enforcement administrators, not TE who give out tickets) and half volunteer citizens. These citizens would have to meet certain standards such as be a city taxpayer, no outstanding tickets, etc.).
• Two biggest factors in all of this are that police are not involved and it needs to be a non-threatening service. This is a big change so there would need to be some form of transition plan, such as the police could ride along at beginning of this transition, sort of as backup, but would not approach vehicle.
• Too many cities see tickets as a revenue stream, but claim these tickets are all about public safety. Traffic enforcement needs to really be about safety and if city needs more revenue, they need to seek it other ways that are less threatening and punishing.
This part of Police Reform would be a major step and would not only change the structure of the department, but would also change the attitude and behavior of those involved. To many people, both police and civilians, traffic violations seem like a major offense. Because of this we see police pull speeders out of cars and beat them, we also see civilians attack police during a traffic stop. If we change the nature of traffic enforcement it would reduce and eventually eliminate these types of confrontations. Making this change would allow police to do the job they thought they were hired to do: fight real crime.
Part II will explore the next step in police reform, including whom we hire to police us as well as the way the police should function as a crime unit.
About Jay Williams
When not ranting about society and its ills, Jay writes short stories for literary and men's magazines like "The Stake," "SingleLife," "A Carolina Literary Companion," "Aura Literary/Arts Review," and others. Visit "Jay's Place" to read some (https://sites.google.com/site/jaywinaustin/). He has also penned three eBooks: TAX BREAK, WINGS OF HONOR and SEX and the AMERICAN MALE. You can find them at Amazon.com and other ebook retailers.