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Speed traps are not proper enforcement

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Let me begin by saying something I learned a long time ago as a cop in New York City; you will never make someone happy by giving him/her a traffic ticket.

It doesn’t matter if you catch someone driving 20 miles over the speed limit, or you stop someone for driving an unregistered and uninspected vehicle. Most people believe in their hearts that they’re really not doing anything so evil that they should be subjected to punishment from some guy/gal in a uniform who suddenly popped up from behind shrubbery along the shoulder of the road.

Therefore, imagine a guy on his way to work one morning who didn’t notice that the speed limit on the main street in his town was recently lowered by 5 mph. He’s driving along, thinking about the challenges he’ll be facing that day, when suddenly he sees a police vehicle merging into the traffic from a hidden location just off the roadway. The roof lights go on and he realizes he’s the target. A quick check of his speed on the dashboard monitor tells him he’s only about 3 miles over the limit. However, the officer tells him he was in violation by 8 miles because of the recent change.

The motorist is issued a ticket that costs about $150, which might be his entire day’s pay. I don’t have to tell you how he’s going to feel about cops after that experience. I always loathed that part of the job because in the overwhelming number of cases the motorist is a decent, law-abiding guy who is supporting a family, paying his bills and doing his best to be a good citizen. The fact is; those qualities make him the perfect target for cities and towns that need to add more revenue to the treasury. The irresponsible lout, who’s always being stopped and who has a glove compartment filled with citations he never answered, is unlikely to answer this one either.

It should go without saying that we need to enforce traffic laws. But, the most important job of any police unit is crime prevention, not punishment. The best way to prevent crime is to project an image of omnipresence. Would-be violators are not about to break any laws while a police officer or a marked unit is in view.

We’ve all experienced the sudden chill of seeing a patrol car behind us, or seeing one parked along the median, causing us to let up on the gas pedal and tap the brakes. We may not like to succumb to authority, but we can understand and respect the need for it.

What people don’t respect is the image of a carefully shrouded unit peeking out from the shadows, ready to swoop down on a driver like a hawk preying on a field mouse. It may pump more money into the town coffers, but it is viewed by many as a scheme to rip off residents under the guise of traffic enforcement.

According to a new list compiled by the National Motorists Association (NMA), a drivers-rights advocacy organization, the worst speed traps in North America are in Flower Mound, Texas; Livonia, Michigan; and Windsor, Ontario, Canada. Being the number one speed trap in the continental United States is a dubious distinction at best. We must be a bunch of lawbreakers and drag-racers to merit that much attention to our driving habits.

Or, is it something else? According to that same NMA report, if the speed limit in an area changes four times in two miles and police cars can barely be seen lurking behind bridges and oversize shrubs, the writing is on the wall: You’re in a speed trap!

Their official definition of a speed trap is “a spot that combines arbitrarily low speed limits with heavy traffic enforcement designed to generate ticket revenue.”  I’ve heard from several town residents who are concerned about what they believe is an overly aggressive campaign that seems to fit the above definition.

Although it’s axiomatic that most people never want to see the police until they need them, I would postulate that most people realize how vital those officers are to the security and safety of the community. Furthermore, I feel confident in saying that residents would have much more respect and admiration for the job done by their local officers if they didn’t feel like they were being badgered every time they started their engines.

Having our town at the top of the list of speed traps in the country is not exactly a proud achievement. On the contrary, it makes us look like a bunch of recidivists who need to be constantly spied upon. That’s not the Flower Mound I’ve come to know and love.

 

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