In certain locations, you can get a fine mailed to you after being captured on camera blowing a red light, speeding, or not having your transponder on a tollway. The system of camera enforcement for minor traffic violations frees-up the police while keeping people honest. I suggest it’s time to expand that concept.
Ask any officer out there and they will most likely tell you that there is no such thing as a “routine” traffic stop. Officers put themselves in harm’s way due to the unknown of who is in the vehicle they stopped, as well as the traffic conditions around them. Traffic stops are not safe and in this age of COVID-19, racial tensions, and general poor morale, officers are doing less of them today.
We have the technology to capture violations on camera on streets and in squad cars. We have license plate recognition software, facial recognition, and we even allow for going to court remotely. We have all of this technology but we are not using it to its fullest capacity.
If we marry this technology together, we could allow cities to capture violations through the camera, send citations to the registered owners via an automated computer program, and allow the courts to secure the fines electronically or allow the person’s right to due process over a Zoom meeting.
Imagine a world in which officers would make less traffic stops through the convenience of video, computers, and electronic court and record filings. Officers could be freed-up to concentrate on more serious police issues and investigations. They would be safer by making less traffic stops, and they would greatly reduce accusations of bias policing by capturing the violations they see and let Department of Transportation and the courts take it from there.
This system also has advantages of increased revenues from fines, as I would estimate violations would increase ten-fold or more. An average traffic stop for a minor violation could easily take up 20-30 minutes of an officer’s time. “Tagging” a violation on an always-recording camera system and linking the violation to a vehicle’s tags could take a few clicks of a mouse or through a computer system. The vehicle owner could also be immediately notified via an app that their vehicle was observed violating a law and what their fine is.
Plus, imagine the safety aspect in how many more people would obey traffic laws if they knew big brother is watching more and more? There would be fewer crashes, more concentration on the road, and increased safety in general. Every day I see people running red lights, cutting off others in traffic, or burying their face in their phones while driving. Of course, an officer is usually not around when these violations occur, cameras could be though.
Some of you might express concern or outrage about the thought of further government intrusion. Yet your right to privacy on a public street is essentially zero. What you do and how you behave in public is therefore everyone to see. Those of you who text while driving, cut people off, and basically drive with your heads up a body cavity don’t seem to mind who is around anyway, so why be concerned about a few strategically mounted cameras?
Will this eliminate traffic stops entirely? No, there will always be a need for police to intercept those who are a danger to others. Reckless drivers, drunk and high motorists, and people committing crimes in their vehicles will always be fair game. But for the “minor” traffic violations, we have the means to eliminate probably 75% of all traffic stops officers make. Imagine giving officers more time to be proactive against other violations, doing more community-oriented policing, and even working with the under-served in our communities.
Imagine a roadway under surveillance where people put their phones down and drive. Imagine an intersection that prominently warns people not to violate red lights, and pedestrian walk/don’t walk violations with cameras watching? How many of us Dells folks would love to see more of those people ticketed? Imagine an officer that has more time to be effective against crime, than trying to correct bad driving habits through enforcement?
The efficiency and safety in this is genius. It’s a win-win for police and those they serve. I hear it often….officers are less inclined to conduct traffic stops, not because of the safety concern, but due to the concern they will be accused of something. This system helps eliminate that while holding people accountable for their actions. Geez, holding people accountable for their actions…remember when society used to do that?
Brian Landers, a former Wisconsin Dells mayor, writes a weekly column for Capital Newspapers. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.