By Steve Pomper
Never underestimate the capacity of anti-law and order politicians to make good cops look like bad guys. City and county anti-police lawmakers are forever pontificating about improving police-community relations. But police officers are the last things on politicians’ minds when enacting policies and laws. A recent speed limit change in Seattle highlights a unique double-edged sword form of political leaders setting up their cops.
While having coffee with a cop buddy the other day, we recalled many years ago when our city adopted a zero-tolerance policy that mandated cops impound the cars of all people stopped and found to be driving with a suspended license. I didn’t know one cop who supported the city taking away officer discretion regarding towing offenders’ vehicles.
Unsurprisingly, once the inevitable complaints started rolling in from low-income, minority drivers most impacted by the new policy, city leaders blamed the cops and acted as if they’d had nothing to do with implementing the policy. After blaming the cops, the impound policy shriveled up and vanished. Poof! And what remained? Only bad feelings toward the big bad police.
Now to the double-edged sword I alluded to earlier. The city is reducing the cities arterial speed limits from 30 to 25 mph. Ostensibly, this is not to raise revenues but to “save lives.” Most officers I know describe the policy as a typical city “do-something” overreaction to what are real tragedies (pedestrian and cyclist injuries and deaths) but that reducing the speed limit by five mph will likely not address.
The Seattle Times reported, “New signs alone don’t slow drivers, as Victoria, B.C., is finding this year on five corridors where neither speeds nor crash rates changed in 1½ years of a 25-mph limit….”
Some supporters of the speed reduction cite recent tragedies, like the driver who injured and killed pedestrians walking along Aurora Ave. N. in Seattle. This driver was speeding, high on meth, and lost control of her car. She drove onto the sidewalk, killed a brother, sister, and severely injured their father.
Lowering the speed limit by any amount will do nothing to address such reckless disregard for the law and human life. But it will frustrate drivers who already have trouble driving through the city’s maze of intentional traffic chaos: Bike lanes, sharrows, bike boxes, pedestrian lanes, bus lanes, bus bulbs, trolleys, trolley tracks, etc. They make Seattle’s roads seem more like running through a hazard-speckled gauntlet than driving on safe public roadways.
A 25-mph speed limit will mostly just inconvenience and frustrate drivers (more than the above foolish city traffic engineering already does), set drivers up for traffic citations, and scapegoat any cop who enforces the new limit.
In my experience, many cyclists and pedestrians contribute to their own collisions. Driving through the city, you won’t have to wait long to see reckless bicycle banshees, terrorizing drivers and pedestrians, careening off the sidewalk into the roadway and then back onto the sidewalk with abandon. And jaywalking is now prolific in a formerly courteous city that not all that long ago was famous for its crosswalk and general traffic etiquette.
According to nolo.com, an online legal encyclopedia, “The majority of bicycle accidents involve only the cyclist, who loses control of the bike and crashes.” In fact, “only around 11 percent of bicycle accidents involve a collision with a car.” And the Cherin Law Firm reports, “the pedestrian was more likely to be at fault for a pedestrian car accident….”
Just wait until the mayor gets stopped for driving over 25 mph. Oh, wait… a police officer drives her around the city all day. Well, you little people deal with it.
According to Mynorthwest.com, the new speed limits, 25 mph arterials and 20 mph non-arterials, “will affect roughly 80 percent of the city’s streets.” Major arterials that are also state highways will require state permission to alter the speed limits.
I’m not quibbling with anyone’s desire to make streets safer, but shouldn’t making the public safer be a more comprehensive effort addressing all lawbreaking in a city? I have a problem with any jurisdiction’s lack of legal consistency. You see it when leaders emphasize punishing normally law-abiding people rather than the chronic street criminals.
For example, at the same time the mayor, city attorney, and the city council refuse to enforce street crime, even with repeat offenders, they’re emphasizing enforcing the new 25-mph speed limit? Isn’t there a problem with consistency when you place an emphasis on punishing normally law-abiding people rather than holding people responsible for their criminal actions?
City leaders want the cops to hold people accountable for driving over 20 or 25 mph but not hold people accountable for stealing items from stores, trespassing on private property, peeing or crapping on sidewalks, or damaging private property.
In fact, the city aggressively fines graffiti victims who fail to remove paint from their property quickly enough. At the same time, the city rarely prosecutes the criminals who vandalize the victim’s property (must be in the “survival crimes” category some politicians made up).
Who will suffer from the new speed limit enforcement? Mostly good citizens who live and work in the city. And who will those people view as the bad guys? The cops giving drivers $139.00 traffic tickets.
The good people who live and work in the city pay the price while chronic criminals walk. Don’t we also have to ask why city government wants to hold normally law-abiding people responsible for breaking the law but not street criminals? Because normally law-abiding people actually pay their fines—criminals don’t. In fact, they cost the city money to prosecute and incarcerate.
While the lawmakers feel all warm and fuzzy about themselves for making the world a “safer” place, the law enforcers have to deal with the real-life consequences of enforcing and/or not enforcing laws at the whim of city leaders because of their salad bar view of enforcing the law. Enforce this but not that. I’m on a legal consistency salad diet with social justice dressing on the side.
On one Facebook police group an officer commented on enforcing jaywalking. It’s another city traffic law that mayors want enforced that makes cops the bad guys when other laws are ignored. City leaders don’t care about thefts, property damage, trespassing, or minor assaults. But don’t you dare cross the street against the light or in between crosswalks. The officer wondered why any cops should put themselves in what has become such a precarious position.
Another officer posted to the effect: Yeah, I’m gonna detain someone for jaywalking and if they ignore me, and I have to go hands-on, and they resist, and I have to use force, then I get in trouble for “beating up a jaywalker.” I’d probably lose my job, maybe wind up in prison. Why would any cop take that risk?
I’d ask that voters consider this enforcement dichotomy when they elect their city leaders, but I’m afraid it falls on proverbial deaf ears. During the most recent elections in Seattle, voters put virtually the same anti-cop, anti-law and order, pro-social justice officials back in office. Isn’t it about time the rule-of-law pendulum began to swing back toward equal justice?