Defund the police! Sound ridiculous? We are conditioned to believe that the police are our backup in case of emergency. We instinctively believe that we would not be safe without an established police department.
However, we are being told “defund the police” is not synonymous with abolishing the police, but rather means shifting some of the current policing activities to more appropriate community resources. For example, if a complaint comes in about an annoying homeless person panhandling in a retailer's parking lot, rather than sending an armed officer, send a trained individual from social services or the homeless shelter to defuse the situation.
After better understanding what is being talked about by the defund-the-police movement and examining my own interactions with police, the following ideas would not leave my head. The most common interactions with police for the average citizen has to do with violations of traffic rules. These are rarely appreciated and often perceived as unreasonable intrusions into personal liberty. Resulting fines appear totally arbitrary and generate anger and frustration. I have never felt that the citation produced a lasting change in my driving performance.
This buzz in the head raised several questions. Why do we have traffic rules? That’s easy — without rules there would be chaos and mayhem on the roads. But don’t drivers have to prove that they know the rules and demonstrate this by passing a test before receiving a license? Therefore, the licensed driver understands that the rules are there to provide order to the flow of traffic. So, a reasonable person knows that gross violation of traffic rules lessens his safety and increased the risk of serious injury.
So why have police enforcing traffic rules? I can think of three reasons: 1) People are stupid, unreasonable and break rules, 2) Enforcement improves safety, 3) Fines support the police and the courts. I will leave the first one for the denizens of social media, but respond to the second and third.
I have not been able to find a well controlled study that demonstrates enforcement improves safety. Contrarily, the insurance industry believes that people who get citations will continue to get citations so they use this rational to justify their increase in your premiums. Has a fix-it citation for a defective tail light decreased the number of defective tail lights or reduced the incidence of rear end accidents? I don’t think so.
The point is that traffic citations seem to promote frustration and anger, not improved safety. Therefore, why have traffic police spending time writing citations. Why not have more police available to investigate traffic accidents and then institute more appropriate penalties for the person who, by violating the rules, becomes involved in the accident? Think of the times when you were involved in a rear end accident where the responsible party was following too closely. In this situation, if the damage was minor, it is unlikely that the police would even show up or file a report. But here, it is probable that your insurance premium will increase. The person going 65 miles per hour in a 25 miles per hour school zone and hits a child should undergo police investigation and get jail time. Does it promote safety to have a cop with a radar gun giving tickets for someone going 28 miles per hour in a school zone? Which is a more efficient use of police time and expertise?
As far as raising income for the police, history is full of examples of abuse, such as speed traps and the recent shameful experience uncovered by this practice in Ferguson. There are better ways to finance police than relying on traffic citations.
Considering the lives lost by both citizens and police from stops for broken tail lights or marginal speeding, I am proposing that current practices for enforcing traffic violations be analyzed and changes be tested and proven so that police interventions truly improve safety. Such action, hopefully, will reduce unnecessary and sometimes dangerous confrontations between citizens and police.
William D. Bezdek is a retired physician.