Sunday, January 9, 2011

Can't Win for Losing...

An interesting quandary exists for police officers as a whole. To cite, or not to cite...

Alas, that IS the question.

If I stop a driver for some violation of the law, I have basically two options available to me. I can release that person with a simple verbal reprimand similar to "Don't do that again". Or, I can bring some form of legal action against that person.

Whether I do or do not elect to cite a given driver is ultimately determined by several factors, such as the seriousness of the violation, the driver's attitude toward me, how seriously THEY take the violation, the number of complaints from citizens regarding that particular violation, the number of collisions at that location and/or with that violation as a primary collision factor, and the list keeps going, and going, and...

One KEY factor in my decision is how the public is going to perceive MY ACTIONS after the fact.

If I choose to warn the driver, and tell him or her to have a nice day, and that person LEARNS from the warning, doesn't continue to drive like an ass-hat, and doesn't crash as a result of their continued behavior, all is well.

If I choose to warn the driver, and that person CONTINUES the behavior for which I elected not to cite them, later resulting in a collision, injury or death, all is far from well. The next question to arise is "Why didn't the officer write the driver a ticket?"

The knee jerk reaction when the average member of the public finds out the driver who just killed the kid/mom/veteran/etc. was NOT CITED for their poor driving habits is to say that "It probably wouldn't have happened if the police had done their job." Of course, the driver should have slowed down. Had he gotten a ticket instead of a warning, he might have.

It doesn't always work like that. If I had a dollar for every driver I have ever cited for the same violation, in the same location, on more that one occasion, I'd be at least a few bucks richer.

On the other hand, if I choose to cite the driver I have to deal with the same folks saying "The officer just cited him to generate revenue for the city" or "The officer just cited him because he's (insert race, creed, religion, sexual orientation here)" or "The officer is just mean."

Of course it is not logical to think that perhaps I issue citations in an effort to educate the motoring public on how to safely and properly operate their vehicles. No. I can't be issuing citations because I believe the fastest way to affect someone's driving style is to impact their pocketbook.

It must be because I'm mean spirited. It must be because I'm racist. It must be because the city needs money. Right?

Whether I decide to cite a driver or not, I will inevitably hear someone bitch about it. Not that I really care when they bitch. It just shows me their true colors.

My personal habit is to cite the vast majority of drivers I stop. Mainly, this is because if I have stopped you I am 100% certain of what I saw you do and that YOU are the person I saw do it. I choose this route as much to cover my own ass as to educate the motoring public.

Don't like it? Don't drive like an asshole in Smithville.

Or, don't drive at all...


HonkingAntelope said...

I'd say most of the bitching comes when people notice certain folks get huge breaks while others get pulled over once in a lifetime and cited for driving 65 in a 55 zone on an empty road.

Another thing you forgot to mention is that different officers put different priority on traffic enforcement. Some, like you, take it seriously, and others consider it a waste of time to write tickets unless the driver flunks the attitude test or something bad gets discovered during the stop.

One time, I was driving in an unnamed city when I got stopped for speeding. I was rather floored when the officer told me he saw me going at 70mph, a nearby radar sign showed me doing 50, and the posted limit is 35mph. Long story short, the officer took his sweet time running my info but then came back, handed my license back, and said something like "Here's your license back, you need to slow down. You're lucky you're not getting a ticket tonight."

Another time (3 days after I bought my new car), I was stopped on a freeway, and the very first question the officer said was "What the hell are you doing? You were driving like a maniac." The conversation wasn't too pleasant, but he did cut me loose w/o a ticket.

My point is, officer discretion is a great thing, but one of its downsides is that you will always have people second-guessing your judgment call.

Jay said...

I like your thinking O.S.
Sounds like you are hung if you do or hung if you don't, so why not cite away.
The driver that gets off with a warning and then
re-offends....Would that be a case of "out of cite out of mind"?

Gator Girl Tales said...

Love the way you ended this! And well said throughout! :)