Unsafe At Any Screed

To the Editor,

Mailbag Regarding Jeff Smith's "Blues Druthers" (Tucson Weekly, August 22): Check your morals! It is illegal to exceed the speed limit. Wrong is wrong and by reading your column today I get the feeling you are promoting the wrong message: Do it as long as you don't get caught.

Shame on you!

--Becky Spann

To the Editor,

Jeff Smith has hit the nail on the head ("Blues Druthers," Tucson Weekly, August 22). I have recently moved to Tucson after having retired, with the rank of captain, from 24 years of law enforcement in one of the "wild and woolly" Western suburbs of Chicago; and, notwithstanding a separation of 1,800 miles, things are obviously much the same here as they were there, insofar as traffic enforcement is concerned.

Of course, revenue is important to every police department and officers are encouraged (read: required!) to write as many tickets as possible, and that is the excuse cops always use for their binges of punitive creativity, but that excuse ignores the fact that many, many cops simply love to write tickets; I've always suspected that it's a power trip. Paradoxically, though, they don't seem to like to write the people who really deserve tickets, but instead prefer to pick on the honest, upright, taxpaying citizen who simply made an error in judgment.

And there is, in the dark recesses of police mentality, a good reason for this discrimination: If a cop tries to stop an obvious dirtbag violator in a rattletrap beater of a car, chances are better than even that the offender will not be meekly compliant and the officer could find himself in a risky high-speed chase, or, failing that, is likely to discover that the scumbag driver is wanted on outstanding warrants, has no driver's license or insurance, or is going to put up a fight, all of which means, at the least, lots of tedious paperwork, escalating upward to the possibility of physical injury. Many cops, therefore, find it much easier to satisfy the department's requirements, and their own primordial urges, to instead go after the wage-earner who is 10 minutes late for work and 10 mph over the speed limit. These people will not likely be wanted, will not usually put up a fight, and generally will simply pay the fine, thus providing revenue for the department, and "points" for the cop in fulfilling the requirements of his department's "quota" or "index," or whatever euphemism is currently in vogue.

And, of course, while all this ticket-writing is taking place, people elsewhere in the jurisdiction are being beaten, mugged, held-up, shot, raped and goodness-knows-what-else; but there is no revenue in felonies as there is in traffic offenses, so the priorities are obvious.

What has always astonished me, though, in my almost quarter-century of police work, is the amazement of many of these same overzealous police officers when they discover that, when they need the co-operation of these same ill-treated taxpayers in solving more cases, the help often is not immediately forthcoming.

These masters of mean-spirited penmanship seem unable to comprehend that lowering the boom on honest taxpayers over trivialities while ignoring the vastly more serious iniquities of the truly vile elements of the population does not serve to incline people to go out of their way to assist these blue-clad martinets who are so quick to harass the innocent and ignore the guilty.

Jeff Smith is right on when he proposes non-police citizens' traffic enforcement teams; I also think that placing all traffic revenues in, say, the state's education fund, instead of giving it to individual municipalities to use as they see fit, would reduce the temptation of both police officer and administrator to insist on the harassment of the citizenry for purely fiscal reasons.

--John Leslie Bates

To the Editor,

Regarding "Blues Druthers" (Tucson Weekly, August 22): That grand poobah of common sense, Jeff Smith, is wrong in his assertion that too much police duty is being devoted to handing out traffic tickets. Ostensibly, the whole concept of a speed limit is based on the assumption that above and beyond a certain speed conditions become unsafe. Following this logic, it makes sense to say that if you increase the amount of traffic, the effect is aggravated.

Yes, just about all of us are guilty of exceeding the speed limit a good bit of the time, and most of us can do this safely to a large extent. However, to those of us old-fashioned enough to believe that safety is an issue worth considering from time to time, it has become painfully obvious there is a growing minority of people who, despite being "essentially law-abiding citizens," become vicious and ruthless assholes when they get behind the wheel of a car. Getting across town as quickly as possible is their only priority, and everyone and everything else can get screwed. Caution? Courtesy? Are you kidding?

And just who the hell are you to get in their way? Answer: no one. There they are, weaving in and out of lanes and between vehicles with inches to spare, foaming at the mouth to get a car length or two ahead in time for the light to turn red.

Do people behave with such naked aggression in the supermarket? No, a shopping cart can't be used as a threatening weapon or provide the degree of anonymity that a car does. These people are either frustrated by their personal lives or the steadily-worsening automobile congestion that unlimited growth brings. But regardless of the reason, this bunch is a problem and they deserve all the tickets they get for speeding or reckless driving. And it doesn't seem that someone with the wimpy authority of a meter maid is going to accomplish much.

Maybe Jeff Smith doesn't share the road with people like this where he lives. Or maybe Jeff just received a ticket because he is one of this growing minority of traffic maniacs.

--Steve Vetter

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