Sunday, January 10, 2010

Welcome to the United States of America...

The good ol' U.S. of A. The land of the free.

Many of us were born here. Many of us immigrated. Most of us love the place.

Possibly the best part of living in the United States of America is the freedom we have. We are free to move from place to place. We are free to speak our minds. We are free to do things people in many other countries are not.

One reason we are afforded such freedoms is the set of laws that govern us. We have laws to make us behave. We have laws to keep us from abusing the rights of our countrymen. If there is a law against something, it is probably either immoral, obnoxious or unsafe.

What bothers me is when people say a given law is ridiculous simply because I am enforcing it. The law prohibiting jaywalking, holding your cell while driving, or speeding is just fine until you're getting a ticket. Then it becomes "a way to build the county's coffers" or "just harassing me".

I tend to look at it differently. EVERY SINGLE LAW that is on the books was put there for a reason. Our legislators felt that it was necessary to prohibit certain things out of courtesy for a larger portion of society. Many traffic collisions were caused by people paying more attention to their cell phones than their driving, so a law was enacted to stop us from doing so. People were getting run over by the ever increasing number of vehicles when they crossed the street in the middle of the block, so a law was enacted to require us to cross at a crosswalk.

I don't see why people can't just abide by the laws we are all supposed to live by. It may be inconvenient for you to go to the end of the block and make a u-turn rather than making an illegal left turn, but the turn was prohibited for a reason. I'm not an engineer, and I can't usually tell you what that reason was, but I can guarantee there was a reason. If I can spend the extra minute to do it legally so can you. And if you're too goddamned impatient, lazy, inconsiderate or just plain over-privileged to do it legally, don't bitch when I write you a ticket for it.

We are free because we mostly obey the laws that are in place to protect us from ourselves. If we consistently disobey the law, it is not going to make those laws go away. Instead, we might see some of our freedom go away because of the vocal minority who feel that the law does not apply to them.

The police are not here to make your life difficult.

People do that just fine on their own...


Carteach0 said...

Mostly, I agree, with a few exceptions. Yes, I believe most laws, especially the minor traffic laws and such, were enacted with good reasons behind them. On the other hand, I suspect most readers will be able to think of some law brought forth solely to benefit those who make law, or their friends.

It was once legal in this nation to own slaves and beat them to death, and illegal for woman to vote. Legal and illegal have nothing to do with 'right' and 'wrong'.

Most laws should be 'obeyed' (I prefer 'followed') because the person knows the reason the law exists. I teach my students to think about the reason for the law, rather than just the consequence for breaking it. The town speed limit is 35mph on the main drag because that is the safest maximum speed along that congested road, and driving faster risks the lives and safety of other people.

But... and everyone knew this was coming... invariably a student will point out the police always drive faster than the speed limit. In one spot, we are all aware of the officer who drives 50mph to get back into position to ticket people for exceeding the 25mph speed limit, and another spot where the nice lady officer chooses to do her overwatch while parked on top of the concrete median where mere mortals may not go.

What do I tell my students about these cases?

rjmlakota said...

They should put your last post on a billboard in every major city across the US!!! I couldn't have said it better myself!

Keep up the good work!


Moose said...

I cannot believe that every single law on the books is there for a *good* reason. Many times laws are passed to make money for someone(s).

However, I DO believe that blaming the cop for enforcing the law is misplaced. When you go to the store, it is not the cashier's fault that the eggs are priced so (though many idjits will blame the cashier anyway).

If you think a law is stupid, you talk to a politician. The police are just there to enforce what laws exist.

[yeah, i know, preaching to the choir there :-)]

G said...

If it helps, there are a few laws I don't like even when you're not enforcing them on me. But on the other hand, in the unlikely event you ever give me a ticket, I can definitely promise not to bitch about the foolishness of the law -- you didn't make it!
And we the public do usually appreciate the police. (I wish for one of you every time I cross the light by my job and dodge the constant the red light runners. (I think they set up a system, to make sure someone runs every light. Wouldn't do to let pedestrians cross in peace.) Of course, if you stopped someone from running that red light or jaywalking there,* I'm sure they'd tell you that you were being outrageous.

*Obviously a rather unsafe place to jaywalk

Mad Jack said...

Instead, we might see some of our freedom go away because of the vocal minority who feel that the law does not apply to them.

And that, my law enforcing agonist, is what is wrong with the United States. The laws which regulate common behavior such as traffic do not originate from people most familiar with the existing behavioral problems, nor are these laws written by learned, emotionless and dispassionate legislators well versed in constitutional law. Instead we have groups of emotional alarmists all vying for the attention of the State legislators, each and every one of whom won a popularity contest in the last election. Many have no background in law or law enforcement, some are guilty of traffic infractions too numerous to list and all are largely immune from arrest once they attain office.

Law enforcement is selective. The enforcement officer must see the violation, catch the violator and issue the ticket. That's three ifs. Drivers know this and generally behave accordingly. I'm told that this is called the 'halo effect'. On the other hand, the driver's violation provides its own immediate reward. For example, there is a traffic signal I encounter on a regular basis which provides me with a very long red signal and an inversely short green signal. As opportunity permits, I have sometimes stopped at the light, ascertained that there is neither traffic nor law enforcement personnel nearby and then deliberately and with malicious premeditation violated the law by running the red light. I don't know how many times I've committed this crime, but I've never been caught and the odds are I never will be caught.

Shame on me.

If we the people really wanted safer streets, traffic law creation would be instigated by traffic cops and written by constitutionalists. Unlicensed drivers would be prohibited and apprehended by electronics. Obtaining an operators permit would become a major hurdle cleared by few. Of course, none of this will ever happen. Oh well.

Officer "Smith" said...


If your students believe the "police always drive faster than the speed limit", they apparently do not pay attention to those police cars driving AT the speed limit. Perhaps because a speeding car (police or otherwise) attracts more attention than one traveling at the speed limit, the students just don't notice the police cars traveling at the speed limit. I doubt this is the case, based solely on the number of drivers I see freaking out on a daily basis when they see me trolling along at the speed limit, but hey, you never know.

One thing you may want to have your students consider is that the "speeding" police car may actually be going somewhere urgently. Perhaps there is an incident in progress that does not justify use of red light and siren, but still requires a prompt response. My department policy allows me to drive up to 15 miles over the speed limit in response to such a situation, when it is safe to do so. If folks would think a little bit every now and then, they might come to such conclusions on their own. Unfortunately, many people are simply not capable of such logic.

As for the officer who drives 50 miles per hour BACK to their hidey hole is simply wrong, if that is in fact what they are doing. I often do 50 to CATCH UP to speeders, but not to get back to my spot. That's just idiotic.

I can't tell you exactly why your nice lady officer chooses to do her overwatch from atop a concrete median, but I can tell you several reasons I occasionally do so. One is that I am safely out of the way of traffic, and not creating a traffic hazard. Two, I can get to traffic traveling in either direction from such a perch. And three, nobody can complain that I was hiding (not that that really matters in court, but what the hell).

One thing I'd ask you to consider is that we, the police, are trained to drive our vehicles quickly, and in odd situations, but to do so safely. Most of your average drivers on the road are not. Also, we are allowed to break traffic laws in order to apprehend drivers who have broken traffic laws. It would be impossible to catch a speeder if I had to drive the speed limit to do so. By that same token, how could I catch someone who ran a red light, if I didn't turn on my lights and go through the same red light they just ran?

All it really takes to figure out why we do what we do is a little logic and common sense. Unfortunately, most of our society is so self absorbed, and so sure the police are always wrong, they do not wish to know the truth. They instead choose to perpetuate their own illusions of police impropriety.

I cannot help such people...

HonkingAntelope said...

That's the problem with driver's ed today. It's only there for people who are too illiterate to read the DMV handbook themselves, rather than teach stuff that's not the book and have the students read the book on their own time before the class meets (a hallmark of any half-way decent teacher).

Just to clear something up for your loyal readers, maybe someday you could do a post on the difference between prima facie speed limits and maximum speed limits. I know for a fact that quite a few cops who don't do traffic enforcement regularly don't know the difference very well, either.

In the case of prima facie speed limits, ANYONE can do 55 in a 35 as long as they can prove by "competent evidence" that doing so was not too fast for conditions (aka VC22350 basic speed law). So, a cop doing 50 in a 25 to get back to the fishing hole may be out of policy, but it is not necessarily a violation of the law. See CVC 22351(b) for more details. In practical terms, few cops will hassle drivers who are less than 10-15mph above the limit unless there is something else about the driver or the driving style that catches the cop's attention.

On the other hand, I don't see ANY legal justification for occasional CHPs driving above 65mph without lights + siren.

Now, to address the original post:

The main problem with the majority of American traffic laws and standards is that they are made to accommodate the bottom 20% of least-able drivers, rather than to make sure that the least capable drivers are kept off the roads, as is the case in any other sane country.

Is it any surprise that the 80% of motorists who can drive better than the bottom 20% ever could, feel it's patently absurd to be penalized for something they always did safely just because a few retards with room-temperature IQs messed up a few too many times?

The bottom line is, most of us can easily drive 10-15mph above the speed limit without endangering anyone, jaywalk safely across a completely empty street, and can certainly handle a brief cell phone conversation without impairing our driving worse than some DUIs.

I'm all for traffic safety and getting the truly shitty drivers right off the road, but the answer is NOT by forcing everyone to drive at the lowest-common-denominator level.

Officer "Smith" said...


I think your 80/20 theory is right on the money. I never thought of it that way, surprisingly enough.

Ann T. said...

Dear Officer Smith,
First I congratulate you on the many thoughtful comments to this post.

What I mostly notice is not police doing as they please but allowing others to do as they please when it seems customary or not dangerous. For instance, in Texas woe betide you if you went over a school speed limit--but on the turnpike, a faster speed than posted was frequently allowed, unless you were a jerk. Jerks got tickets.

This customary practice also shows with non-law enforcement. Regular commuters got to know the "hot dogs" on their commute and give them room. Road rage is still less prevalent than this tolerance, although, tolerance seems to be waning rapidly.

in Louisiana, speed limits around schools were not so religiously enforced, nor were licensing laws, but if you were caught for speeding you suddenly had an array of tickets on your record.

I think your points are spot-on except that there is local discretion, frequently, and cultural practices that never made it into a law book.

Last of all, I don't believe in blaming a police officer when I get a ticket. I blame myself.

Ann T.

HonkingAntelope said...

Well Officer, live and learn I say! ;)

I don't know too many people in law enforcement personally, but I've noticed that way too many traffic cops seem to think that their typical "clientele" is an accurate representation of a typical law-abiding citizen whose run-ins with police are limited to a traffic stop once every few years or so.

If it is the legislature's intent to protect abject idiots from themselves and to protect the public from the said idiots, there are better ways to handle it than to pass more one-size-fits-all laws for the sane 80% to break day in and day out.

Even the cell phone law could have been easily written to exclude drivers whose driving is NOT visibly impaired by cell phone use. I commute 20 miles to work, and I usually see at least a few drivers who are completely oblivious to the flow of traffic around them because they got a cell glued to their brain. That way, the bimbo described above can get a well-deserved ticket, and the rest of us can call our friends to let them know that we'll be late because of stop'n'go traffic without having to break the law.

I think People v. Goulet sums it up best:

"Traffic rules account for most of the contact by average citizens with law enforcement and the courts. Enforcement of laws which are widely perceived as unreasonable and unfair generates disrespect and even contempt toward those who make and enforce those laws."

BootedCop said...

Most laws enacted make sense, most of the time. Having done law enforcement for two decades, I'd like to think I've gained a bit of perspective. I respect my comrade Officer Smith, but my perspective may differ slightly, after all this is the USA, and even cops differ in their opinions from time to time. Hell I even know a few who think Obama is a good Prez but that's another matter!

Mentioned a lot in this post and comments were jaywalking, cell phones and running a red light when nobody is around.

Can a reasonable adult assess if its safe to cross the street? Yes. Is it reasonable for a cop to cite said adult for jaywalking if no cars were coming for 1/2 a mile? I don't think so. Would the cop issue a cite? Depends on the officer.

Does talking on a cell phone distract one from driving? Sometimes. Does texting? Almost always. Are there other things besides holding a phone to your ear that are more dangerous but not illegal? Absolutely!

A motorcyclist, at a traffic signal at 2am, is at a red light. The device under the pavement is not sensitive enough to trip the light and change it for him to proceed. Provided he checks for traffic, and safely proceeds through the red light, does this action warrant a citation from a cop? I think not. I would never and have never written a cite for that. Sadly however, I've known cops that have, and would continue to do so just because "it's the law".

Some members of my profession have lost their perspective. Most cops I know and work with are fair minded, reasonable people, but we know there are those in our ranks that aren't. For readers of this and other cop blogs who aren't in law enforcement, I apologize for them.

I was recently asked by another officer from a neighboring agency outside of court "what's the VC section for cutting through a gas station to avoid a red light at an intersection?" I asked him if he had cited someone for such an offense, and he said he had. I told him that no such law existed. There was such a law in CA about 30 yrs ago, but it had since been repealed. He said "well there should be". I asked "what did you cite him for?" He said "a lane violation" and I asked "what lane violation did he commit? He entered private property and exited private property. Unless the owner of the property requested that you arrest him for trespassing, he did nothing illegal." This cop had ASSUMED that something was wrong, stopped a driver for it, and not even bothered to look it up to find out. Lazy. I saw same officer in court a few weeks later and jokingly asked if he had invented any more new laws. He just kind of chuckled. I then asked him if he had dismissed that cite in front of the judge that day. He said "oh he didn't go to court yet hopefully he'll just pay it. If he goes to court I'll dismiss it." I told him he should dismiss it anyway, but he said "nah, what he did was wrong, maybe not legally wrong, but ethically wrong."

I couldn't believe my ears! Here was a fellow LE officer, thank God not from my dept. that was so arrogant and had so little integrity and disregard for the public that he wouldn't dismiss a cite that he had knowingly wrongfully given. A complete jackass wearing a badge. Thankfully examples like him are the exception not the rule.

Smitty, keep up the good work!

Me said...

Try telling a pothead that the laws against using or selling marijuana exist for any reason besides keeping potheads down, or "because the government is mad that they can't tax it..."

In America, we have the right and the ability to change any law we don't like utilizing a number of different methods. But until a law is changed or repealed, it's still the law, and that includes the drug laws that the potheads don't like.

Of course you can't tell drug abusers much and expect them to get it.

Officer "Smith" said...


I heard the one about cutting through gas stations all the time when I was learning to drive, but I have never seen a vehicle code section prohibiting it. It is annoying, yes, but not illegal. Whoever issued that citation needs to check him/herself.

Hopefully I don't come across as the type who will cite anyone, up to and including my mother, for any little violation. I don't try to sound that way, but I also don't have any desire to delve into the intricacies of what, how and why I do what I do in the publication of this blog.

My aim, as I have said before, is to tell a story. I do not intend to get into legal, procedural or ethical arguments with readers of my blog over any information I may intentionally or unintentionally omit in my blog posts. I simply want to get the minimal information across that is neccessary to make whatever point it is that I am trying to make at a given time.

In order to satisfy all the proverbial people all the proverbial time, I'd have to write fifteen page blog posts explaining not only my actions, but my intent, the legal justification for my actions, the aftermath of said actions, the psychological damage inflicted upon those on the receiving end of my actions, the government help available to those who have been the subject of my actions, and the alien abductions along the Extraterrestrial Highway, among other things.

That would make writing this blog a lot less fun, and a certain individual who shall remain unnamed (but whose name can be found up there in the header) has already tried to cut into my fun.

Hopefully my readers can understand this, and not try to read too much into my blog posts.

Thanks for the comments.

FroneAmy said...

Generally it's my opinion that if people are so upset with the laws on the books, they need to take it up with the law-MAKER, not the law-ENFORCER.

Otherwise they just like to bitch and moan. Which is annoying.

(My post is otherwise known as 'ditto Moose')

Jeff Deutsch said...

Hello Officer Smith,

From your response to Carteach0:

"If your students believe the 'police always drive faster than the speed limit,' they apparently do not pay attention to those police cars driving AT the speed limit. Perhaps because a speeding car (police or otherwise) attracts more attention than one traveling at the speed limit, the students just don't notice the police cars traveling at the speed limit.


"Unfortunately, most of our society is so self absorbed, and so sure the police are always wrong, they do not wish to know the truth. They instead choose to perpetuate their own illusions of police impropriety.

"I cannot help such people..."

Physician, heal thyself!

Let me assure you that a majority of the people I know are happy to keep an open mind about police behavior, if not give them the benefit of the doubt.

Let me also assure you that more than a few people I have met are happy to keep closed minds in the opposite direction: to them the police can do no wrong.

And yes, these are all people in our society.


Jeff Deutsch