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March 08, 2008

What's Wrong With This Picture?

More and more, I'm happy my son didn't end up working for Montgomery County:

"You can't have one set of laws for police officers and another one for the rest of the world," Andrews said.

In recent weeks, officers have twice been photographed speeding past a camera and extending a middle finger, an act that police supervisors interpreted as a gesture of defiance. "There is no excuse for that kind of behavior," said Andrews, who was briefed on the incidents.

During the last eight months of 2007, the department's cameras recorded 224 instances in which county police vehicles were nabbed traveling more than 10 mph over the speed limit, the department disclosed this week in response to an inquiry from The Washington Post.

Of those citations, 76 were dismissed after supervisors determined that officers were responding to calls or had other valid reasons to exceed the speed limit. Nearly two-thirds of the remaining 148 fines have not been paid, including an unspecified number that remain under investigation, said Lt. Paul Starks, a police spokesman. He said the number of citations issued to police employees this year is not yet available.

Officer Mark Zifcak, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 35, did not respond to an e-mail and two phone messages this week seeking comment. In a notice posted on its Web site, the union advises that "members should not pay or set court dates for speed camera citations that are issued to the employer."

Manger is demanding that officers pay the fines, a request that has met stiff opposition from union leaders and has been ignored by some sergeants who were asked to investigate whether officers nabbed by the cameras had a valid reason to speed.

"We are not above the law," Manger said in an interview. "It is imperative that the police department hold itself to the same standards that we're holding the public to."

Officials at the county's fire department, sheriff's office and four municipal police departments said employees who have been caught speeding in government vehicles have paid the fines.

"The only time we don't make them pay the fine is if they're on an emergency call," Sheriff Raymond M. Kight said. "We haven't had any resistance at all."

What a load of horse hockey.

I received a camera ticket in the mail from (you guessed it) Montgomery Country recently.

I didn't go to court and challenge the ticket. I just paid it. I was speeding. My husband and I were pulled over while he was home on 2 weeks leave for something utterly ridiculous. He didn't mention that he was in the military or that our son was a cop. He got a ticket.

I went to court and challenged that one because it made no sense: he had honestly done nothing wrong. After the charge was dismissed, the officer came after me and asked why we hadn't let him know our son was a cop, or that my husband was an Iraq vet. I said we didn't think either fact was relevant to the situation.

I still think that. The law is the law - there can't be one set of rules for cops (and their families) and another for everyone else.

This isn't rocket science.

Posted by Cassandra at March 8, 2008 12:37 PM

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I want to begin by expressing admiration for your being willing to stand up and pay the fines, when your personal beliefs called you to do it. It's admirable to do what you think others should do, even when it is to your personal disadvantage.

I'd like you to understand how much I admire that, before I enter into any argument with the rest.

The law is the law - there can't be one set of rules for cops (and their families) and another for everyone else.

By "can't," you obviously mean "shouldn't." Obviously there can be; and has been, everywhere I've ever lived. Nor is it wholly the cops' fault: I've seen cops fired for ticketing people who were related to important folks.

So they aren't allowed to enforce the law in the way you suggest; that's a reality (and having lived in Montgomery County, I'll assert boldly that it's the case in that county for certain). They may reasonably ask: if they're not going to be allowed to write tickets to the mayor's wife, why shouldn't they extend the privilege to each other? And if they can extend it to each other, why not to veterans and others who have done more for the country than the mayor's wife ever will?

Why, in other words, should the benefit accrue only to those who merit it least? If they are commanded to exercise discretion -- if they may not do as you wish, because to do so will end their careers and end a career in which they may otherwise protect the weak and help the helpless -- why not exercise that discretion wisely as well as in the cases where they are compelled to do so wrongly?

For that matter, why does every defendent in court try to convince the court of his record of public service; or failing that, his contributions as a father or mother to a good family; or failing that, that he has recently Seen the Light and Come to God? It's because there isn't any such beast as "one law for everybody" -- the existence of judges with leeway means that some folks will get off lighter, for the same reasons that cops waive tickets.

That reality is the basic nature of our system of justice. I don't mean this as a normative argument: I'm not arguing this is how it should be. It very plainly is how it is, though, both by design (judges, who are formally tasked with influencing outcomes) and out of nature (politicians, who are formally tasked with managing police departments, and use that power to influence outcomes in favor of friends and family).

And I think it's important to recognize that, in a large part, the system is that way because we as a people want it that way. We could create a system where machines issue tickets automatically; and the only acceptable defense is to prove a machine malfunction. I don't think that's what society wants out of the justice system. We don't want 'one law, period'; we want our circumstances to be taken into account. Otherwise, the law becomes not a human institution for pursuing justice, but a sort of monster: remorseless, and incapable of mercy or discretion.

Posted by: Grim at March 9, 2008 12:06 AM

Because two wrongs don't make a right, Grim.

This isn't discretion. It's a blanket exemption for cops, not based on circumstance but who they are. That's wrong b/c it encourages them to think they are above the law. The fact that others (the mayor, for instance) may think they're above the law, doesn't make it right.

Posted by: Cassandra at March 9, 2008 12:11 AM

It has been my experience that if you fight a speeding ticket, even though you may still have to pay the fine, they frequently cut a deal regarding points on your license. It definitely helps with the insurance rates...

Posted by: camojack at March 9, 2008 01:11 AM

The only time I ever fought one, I won, on the grounds that the cop hadn't actually calibrated the radar gun at the scene as he was required (at least to offer) to do.

Now, I was flat speeding; I only came by the courthouse at all to pay the fine. I discovered when I got there that Bryan Co. GA thought they were entitled to a month's pay for the offense of driving a few miles over the speed limit on I-16, a wide concrete superhighway, dry and clear, that runs through miles of absolutely nothing and no traffic. But it also runs through Bryan County, which uses the highway to levy a tax of sorts on passersby.

That seemed unjust to me -- not the act of fining for speeding, but the act of charging a fortune for a very minor offense, which was a perversion of the intent of the law. Knowing the law from my time at the DA's office -- I used that provision of the law to avoid the fine. If they'd asked for an honest fine, I'd have paid it without protest.

So, is that two wrongs making a right? Or just two wrongs? Or one law for everybody -- since I was perfectly right about what the law required, and the cop hadn't done his duty to the letter? Why, the law was flatly on my side. On the other hand, law or no law, I was sure enough speeding.

"One law for everybody" is like "two wongs don't make a right" -- it's the sort of thing that may sound good to the rational soul, but they don't actually work out in reality. One law for everybody means that law becomes injustice, because circumstances can't be considered -- because as soon as they can be, you don't have one law for everybody, but a different rule for each case. The best you can work out from court case jurisprudence and precedent is general principles to judge individual cases; there's nothing left of a "law."

Meanwhile, when you've got public officials who abuse the powers invested in them to fleece the public or feather their nests, to protect their friends and punish their foes, sometimes "two wrongs" is the best you can get. A friend of mine used to say, "You can't expect justice in this world. The best you can hope for is an occasional lapse in injustice."

I think that's honest and true. You've got to strike a lick for what's right in each circumstance, using whatever tools you have to hand.

Posted by: Grim at March 9, 2008 04:12 AM

Now, I said, "the only time I ever fought one." I've also had tickets where I showed up to court, pled "Guilty, your honor!" and paid whatever they wanted. I never asked for a deal, on points or anything else. Those fines, though, were on a different order. I don't mind to own up to my mistakes, as long as the government is also interested in justice.

If the government decides its job is take you for all they can get, rather than abide by the spirit and intent of the law, then I see no reason I shouldn't use the wording of the law to my advantage also.

Posted by: Grim at March 9, 2008 04:16 AM

I no longer own a car, so the world can be grateful that one of the world's worst drivers is rarely on the road.

I also happen to know about insurance. One insurance company went down (as in belly-up) by making a specialty of writing auto insurance for the families of police officers. They had zero enforcement mechanism against them and ran up overwhelming insurance losses. Stupid insurance company.

But if you think about it just a little, you may be wondering if this is healthful for the policemen's families.

Posted by: levi from queens at March 9, 2008 10:41 AM

The last time I got a ticket in 1999, the officer did not ticket me for the full amount I was over, because, he said I was so nice about being stopped. Well, I had been speeding. The problem came when I went to pay the ticket. I got an itemized bill. It seems that the fine for 5 miles over is $16.00. But then they add 3 separate court fees, 2 taxes (state and local) plus several other additions totaling $97.00. I would not have been surprised to see a tip and rewinding fee added. I understand from a friend who was ticketed recently, that itemized statements are no longer given. So much for freedom of information.

Posted by: Terentia at March 9, 2008 03:12 PM

I am going to be silent on this; I have seen many cops do this and it angers me that the double standard is there, especially when we are trying to teach our children about right and wrong.

Yes, there are mitigating circumstances and we hope that the law takes that into account. There are also blatant acts of idiocy perpetrated just because
a cop wears a badge.

I dislike the fact that Georgia doesn't allow you to fight a ticket but you either contest and pay, get a scratch on your driving record, or you do a
no lo and you STILL pay, but it comes across as
an admission of guilt, a bribe and no chance to
stand up for yourself.

I detest 'shut up and pay' because it ABUSES the system. But you will pay dearly for the court's time if you DARE to contest it.

And that (excuse mah phrainch) P***es me the H**LL

Posted by: Cricket at March 9, 2008 04:03 PM

I've had some animated conversations with a both Montgomery County LEO and a Georgia State trooper over moving violation stops, not that it made much of a difference. But I've never bothered to fight a ticket once the ink was dry. You might get some slack, but odds are good that you'll pay more by going to court.

I was written up for speeding in Rockville Md. when it was another fellow in the inside lane who was doing the speeding, he passed me. I asked the LEO why he stopped me and not the actual speeder... Then I asked to see the calibration certification of the radar gun. Needless to say, the LEO and I got on famously for about 10 minutes.

I also dodged one once on the Eastern Shore when the trooper misidentified the speeding culprit as a little old couple I'd just passed, which was just a couple of microseconds prior to my seeing the trooper and yanking up on the emergency brake. I always balanced those two as some sort of cosmic affirmation of Newton's third law.

It did not seem to me to matter much since I spent so much time traveling on business in those days. I figured that it all worked out in the end.

Once I was given the option to attend a Maryland driving school for accumulating so many points on my license. This was way back when I was much younger and had to cover great distances in short spans of time for the boss.

The gentleman who taught the school (at Ft. Meade BTW) taught me when - dates and times - and where to expect troopers. Since that time I've not had a ticket issued to me.

So in a perfect world, a driver's (re-)training mandatory seminar that should have focused on obeying the traffic laws would not have coached moving violation offenders on how to avoid being caught nor would installing red-light cameras in 45 mph zones justify resetting the timing of the green->yellow->red cycle to 3 seconds( average reaction times, average automobile stopping distances from 45mph and the math says so), just as LEO's would be held to the same standards as ordinary citizens, but then this is far from a perfect world. And I imagine that this is more common across the nation than it is unique to Monty county.

But, I'm with you regarding your son working in Georgia Law Enforcement as opposed to Montgomery County. We have a better, more genteel class of criminal, on the whole. At least those with teeth. =8^}

Posted by: bthun at March 9, 2008 04:28 PM

I'll disagree on one point (and I don't know that the point is german to the situation in MontCo).

If you've ever been in traffic behind an officer who was driving the speed limit, you'll know that it can clog things up for a good distance. Drivers are afraid to pass officers, even at a relatively slow rate, for good reason. Traffic doesn't flow normally and people quite frankly get stupid when traffic gets knotted up.

I'd much rather see officers tooling along at 10-15 MPH over the limit because it allows traffic to flow the way it should. Besides, officers just aren't "normal" drivers. They have a special role on the roads and people rightly look at them differently. They're kind of like the cowboy riding through and around the herd making sure everything's in good order.

That said, this only applies if the officer is on duty. If they're not, then they're just a normal driver like the rest of us and should be treated accordingly.

Posted by: Jimmie at March 9, 2008 09:27 PM

Maybe they ought to just get rid of those damned cameras, then :p

Heh. Seriously, I drive like a bat out of hell Jimmie. You're not going to get much argument out of me.

Posted by: Cassandra at March 9, 2008 10:13 PM

I was driving home from work one day about 15 months ago (late fall) on I-295 in northwest Jacksonville. It was still light out and the temp was in the low 80s. So I had the roof open, windows down, iPod blasting thru the stereo, number six behind a FHP in the left lane, slowly passing the cars in the right lane. Figgered they were doing about 5 mph slower than me.

It slowly dawned on me that the music was getting harder to hear. Now, I was using one of those cassette adapters to play my iPod since my 2000 Acura TL doesn't have an aux port, and I had been having some issues with it so I checked the connection. That wasn't the problem. I then looked at the speed-o-meter and noticed that we were all pacing the Fippy at 106 mph!

So I pulled over into the slow lane and cruised along there at a measly 98 mph.

I'll say this for the TL - it was rock solid at 106, pulling about 3000 rpm in 5th...

Posted by: yak at March 9, 2008 11:03 PM

> By "can't," you obviously mean "shouldn't." Obviously there can be; and has been, everywhere I've ever lived.

I recall an incident where some local cop hostaged up in his house with his ex-wife a captive. If he hadn't been a cop, he'd have been dead. As it was, they took a day or more to talk him out. Not saying either way is right -- just that the fact that he was a cop meant that his arming up and threatening other cops with guns meant little.

Contrast with another kid some years later, hopped up on drugs, ran out of the house armed with a *sword*. Mother, distraught, called the cops. The stop, caught on film, shows the cop brilliantly sauntering up to the car (*KNOWING* the kid was on drugs and armed -- he did the traffic stop because of the report from the mother), the kid charging out of the car, and the cop, shooting the kid multiple times, dead. Might've ended that way anyway, but the cop was essentially responsible for failing to gain complete control of that situation beforehand, and thus contributing to the kid's death. The main responsibility lies with the kid and his mom (failing to raise him correctly), but the cop certainly has a part of that fall on his arrogance in approaching the car under those circumstances.

Posted by: obloodyhell at March 10, 2008 02:55 AM

> nor would installing red-light cameras in 45 mph zones justify resetting the timing of the green->yellow->red cycle to 3 seconds

Traffic cams are a complete and total crock. The only purpose they really have is to line the pockets of the local governments.

This is an extensive, five part series on the subject, but well worth the read:

Posted by: obloodyhell at March 10, 2008 02:57 AM

"Traffic cams are a complete and total crock. The only purpose they really have is to line the pockets of the local governments."

Well, as someone who walks the street of Boston almost daily, I can tell you I wish they would install the traffic cams to ticket folks running red lights. I don't know how many close calls I've seen with pedestrians and people running the lights (worst offenders are the taxi's and MBTA buses).

Posted by: Frodo at March 10, 2008 08:31 AM

I dislike many things, but the governor on the Precious just gripes my cookies and I don't drive like a flying rodent out of Hades. It kicks in at
85 mph.

When we told our attorney that, he blanched and asked how I knew that. I told him the Engineer was driving...

I have to be tranked when he drives.

Posted by: Cricket at March 10, 2008 09:37 AM

"I can tell you I wish they would install the traffic cams to ticket folks running red lights."
I would not have a problem with the cams if the case were not as I suggested and as OBH pointed out.
"Traffic cams are a complete and total crock."

I could bore you with the math used to insure that as many motorists are caught in the red as possible using an intersection that I video taped and timed with a stop watch - does that give away the fact that I consider the government to be engaging in little more than extortion with little to no real concern for improving safety - but the link provided by OBH at the Weekly Standard makes the case pretty clear... so I will not.

Posted by: bthun at March 10, 2008 10:30 AM

Most speeding limits are artificially low if one were truely concerned with only safety. In fact, speed limits would change depending on the time of day - like in a school zone - everywhere if the govt. were trying to maximize speed and safety in a cost benefit analysis.

Speed limits, however, are seldom based on safety, as we know from years of a 55 maximum speed limit on deserted super highways at 4 am. Speed limits are primarily a money raising initiative, as I proved one night in Atlana Suburb City, GA. I got a 51 in a 35. I had no idea the speed limit on a 7 lane road (3, turn lane, 3) went DOWN as I got further from Atlanta just b/c I entered Doraville city limits. It was 11:30 pm, there were 4 cars on the road, I had been at the office since 7 am, I had skipped dinner working, and I was hungry and went down this road just to stop at a fast food joint. The officer told me if I agreed that I was only going 49 and paid the fine, rather than the 51 he clocked me at, the city would not report the speeding to the state -- they only reported 15+ mph speeders. In other words, they didn't want to report my crime -- my real speed didn't matter, nor did they really want me to lose the points, or even make sure my insurance company knew about it. They just wanted the money. And to get it, I could pay without fighting, but if I fought then I'd get reported, get higher insurance premiums, etc. Simple blackmail really. "Pay me, and I'll keep your sin a secret to the state and the insurance commissioner." At least they kept their end of the bargain.

Speeding ticket cameras are part of this game. They are crap and should be destroyed. They are about money - not safety. I agree w/ Cass that I hate that some cops think they are above the law. The answer is not to let cops off. I would rather see the cops sabatoge the cameras for everyone's benefit. Then I would support their not paying the fines.

Posted by: I Smell Bacon at March 10, 2008 02:28 PM

I do not have a blanket gripe about the cops. Some are good people and others are scum, just like the rest of humanity. I had a a cousin killed in the line of duty as a deputy sheriff. He was a decent man. Two guys I went to high school with became city cops - an embarassment to the force. Both are sadistic morons.

I knew a guy who was an instructor at the Operating Engineers training center (heavy equipment) who had been a cop in Petaluma, CA, north of SF. He got into a beef with his superior over cops driving with suspended licenses for drunk driving. He said half the force was working w/o a valid drivers license. He got all bent out of shape over the double standard and finally told the force to stuff it. He went to the newspaper with names and numbers. He had some fun with the clowns and wisely moved out of town.

Posted by: Mark at March 11, 2008 01:35 PM

Good thing the police caught the drunk drivers.

Posted by: Kelsey at March 27, 2008 07:43 PM