A Personal First: The Police Solved a Crime

Here is one reason that my regard for the police has fallen over the years:  Since I was about 25, I have had about an equal number of traffic tickets and robberies.  I have had my car broken into on four separate occasions, and have had my garage burgled once, and have had my company's property broken into and robbed seven or eight times.  Over that same period I have probably had 8 or 10 tickets (though unfortunately four of them were in the same year, causing me to face losing my license).  Can you guess which category the police spent the most time on?

Let's take the most recent example of each.  On the ticket side, I was cited for not getting all the way into the right-hand turn lane before making my right turn (really).  It was about six in the morning.  The cop had obviously invested substantial time waiting at that corner, hoping to catch a miscreant.  Then, once citing me, he went through the trouble of making notes on the incident and then showing up on my court date and testifying from his notes to make sure I was punished for my crime.

OK, now the burglary side.  My car was broken into in a parking lot at night, and my golf clubs were stolen, ironically at the exact same corner where I was busted for making a sloppy right-hand turn.  I called the police.  I'll bet anyone who has experienced such a theft already knows what happened.  I begged and pleaded to get a police officer out to the scene of the crime.  Nope, sorry, too busy.  No one would even bother to show up.  I begged them, saying that there was a security camera and the crime probably was on tape -- nope, sorry.  To even get a police report in the system (which my insurance company needed) I had to go to the police station myself and fill out all the paperwork.  When I turned in the paperwork, I asked who would be working on the crime, and they just looked at me pityingly, like a small naive child.  Because, of course, no one was going to spend one second on the crime.  Just like no one had ever spent a single second investigating any other of the thefts of my property.

So do you see my reason for resentment?  I naively used to think that breaking and entering and theft were far worse crimes than making a poor right turn.  But, conservatively, America's combined police forces probably spent over thirty man hours making sure I was punished for my traffic violations, while they invested zero time solving a series of thefts.

So it was with dumb shock that I got the news that the Coconino County Sheriff's department had actually solved a petty theft case against my property in the Flagstaff area, had apprehended the criminals, and had recovered some of the stolen property.  Now granted, these thiefs were dumb as a post, left what was essentially a calling card on the site, and were convicted felons who were well known to the local police.  But still, credit where credit is due.  Thanks.  Finally.   

  • Jim Collins

    It is no longer a matter of law enforcement. It is a matter of generating revenue for the City or Municipality. When the cop stopped you for the right turn, he was making money for the local government that he works for. Investigating your break-ins takes up valuable time, where the officer could be writing tickets.

  • http://sob.apotheon.org apotheon

    Jim Collins is right, of course. Have you ever wondered why it is that in any car in reasonably good condition speeds just naturally seem to creep above the posted speed limits? It's basically because speed limits are set artificially low in the hopes of catching people exceeding them sufficiently that a speeding ticket can't be convincingly contested in court. It's all about gaming the system to generate revenue.

    I was once a passenger in a car that got pulled over in Orange County, California for failing to signal long enough before a lane change. Can you imagine that? This is in a state where common practice is to signal as you make the lane change, because you don't want to get pulled over for failing to signal, but you also don't want to let anyone know your plans before you execute them so they won't cut you off when you try to make a lane change. The driver signaled a paltry two seconds before making the lane change, far beyond the standard practice of a quarter second after you start the lane change, and got ticketed for signaling too late.

    Wait, it gets better: There was nobody else on the four-lane eastbound stretch of highway within a quarter mile of the car. Who, exactly, were we inconveniencing or endangering with that lane-change without signaling for the previous quarter mile?

    That driver is one of the safest and most skilled drivers I know. She, like me, does not apply standard southern California driving practice when it comes to lane changes: rather than signal halfway through a lane change, she signals a couple seconds before the lane change, but is aware enough of her surroundings to be able to time it so that the car in front of which she's going to execute a lane change happens to be decelerating at the moment she starts signaling, with a reasonable gap into which to pull her car, so that there's no reasonable way the miscreant can cut her off. When you spend most of your driving time paying attention to other drivers and learning to predict their behavior, it becomes surprisingly easy to time lane changes that way, and to find such gaps for changing lanes. No endangering late-signaling behavior is needed.

    . . . but if you signal for five seconds or more when there's traffic on the road, you're screwed no matter how well you pay attention. Someone's going to see that signal as a sign to cut you off. This cop was just looking for a chance to build some revenue.

    I've had similar experiences, as both driver and passenger, many times over the years. There are occasional police officers who don't pull the same crap, of course -- like the one that actually pulled me over to warn me that exceeding the speed limit by twelve miles per hour was a bad idea because I was about to get into an area where I'd pass a speed trap. On the other hand, there was also the officer who pulled me over at six thirty on a Sunday morning with nobody else on the road and all he could figure out to do to justify the stop was ticket me because I had an out of state vehicle registration and was a resident of California at the time. That's right -- I had a vehicle with an out of state registration, and I had that car in the state as a resident for more than ten days, therefore I got a ticket for not having an in-state registration.

    California isn't the only state where I've had such absurd run-ins with the police. The whole state of Georgia is sort of a "no-fly zone" in my estimation, at least at night, because I have never driven in Georgia after nightfall without getting pulled over -- once because, the officer claimed, he thought he saw me wearing headphones while driving. Another time, it was to inform me that I was being let off with a warning because I only had a license plate on the back of the car, and not on the front -- fully aware that front plates are not required in Florida (and the plate on the back was, in fact, a Florida plate).

    I meant this comment to be much much shorter. I'm going to cut myself off now, rather than continue to recount my experiences with police officers looking for ways to get easy busts and generate easy revenue. Suffice to say I am definitely on your side in this, and agree with Jim Collins' take on why things happen the way they do.

    The one time something of mine was stolen and reported to the police, of course, they did nothing.

  • dearieme

    I once read that although there are still Americans who approve of the police in general, no American approves of his local police.

  • http://sob.apotheon.org apotheon

    I'd love to see a source for that -- preferably something involving a rigorously administered, well-organized study of a statistically significant population sample that returned zero percent approval for local police.

  • Jim Collins

    I was just reading my local newspaper and found an article about how many DUIs are plea bargained away by the local Magistrates. When the reporter investigated he found that the trend was to bargain away the DUI in exchange for a higher fine. This way the offender's driver's license wasn't suspended and the municipality didn't have to split the fine with the State.

  • ticktock

    SILENCE, heathen! ve must all remember that der security vorces are here for *our protection*, and if we've done nothing wrong, then they will surely leave us alone.

    unless it's near the end of the month, and they're hustling to make their (never-admitted-to) ticket quota. hate to say it, but i'm pretty sure that an america featuring SWAT teams called out to arrest wheelchair-bound MS patients (richard paey, florida); or peabrained steroid-befogged ticketmeisters (see above); or the 'security forces' killing little old ladies as they burst into her home searching for *drugs* (the little old bat in atlanta)....

    i'm pretty sure **that** america isn't what the founding fathers had in mind. the question is, though: what are we gonna do about it?

  • http://sob.apotheon.org apotheon

    What I'll do about it, given half a chance:
    Vote for Ron Paul in 2008.

  • mudeye

    As a man once said "follow the money". When the cops investigate a burglary it costs them money. When the cops give you a ticket they make money. No mystery here.

  • http://jackalopepursuivant.typepad.com/ Dan

    I just saw a great quote on the subject yesterday. "I wouldn’t call the police in a million years, even if my own life depended on it. The police are essentially an administrative service for the insurance industry."

    And that from a cop.

    Of course, he's talking about the police in the UK, where the problem is considerably more advanced.

    Read more about it at http://coppersblog.blogspot.com/

  • K Shah

    Well, if this is way of making money for local governments, it is a real bad way. As Coyote said, if it takes 30+ man-hours to collect file of upto 300 dollars, then government is not gaining anything in this exercise.

    Except, that we have created "jobs".

  • Highway

    I do have to take a slight issue with apotheon's comment about speed limits. They're set based on the classification of the road and the design standards used for the roadway. Generally, yes, roads don't stay right at the design constraints, but nearly every road has some feature that's right at the minimum for the design speed.

    However, I do agree that strict enforcement of speed limits is something that is far more a social issue than a safety issue. It is my opinion that laws have been piled up, and such discretion given to the police, such that there is no time where you could not be pulled over and ticketed for some infraction. And as others have said: it's a revenue stream. Actually doing what the government pays them to do doesn't get the police enough extra money for new toys and powers.

  • http://sob.apotheon.org apotheon

    Speed limit determination standards for a given region are ultimately set by the whatever governmental agency claims jurisdiction. Even engineering determinations that are presented as recommendations to bureaucrats are suspect, because they are generated by civil engineers that are part of the bureaucratic process of local government, though less directly so than the people who actually have final say about speed limit determination regulations. To think that revenue generation in law enforcement doesn't play a significant part in determining speed limits, especially when speed limits are such an obviously absurd concept almost by definition (there's no way to determine a general-purpose "safe speed" when driver skill and vehicle capability are so variable), is to miss many of the implications of bureaucratic processes.

  • Pedro Bento

    I can do you one better than the car break-in. Some guy (stranger) smashed his friend's head through my girlfriend's windshield in a parking lot(close friends, I guess). She got his name, number, and address, and had 2 witnesses. Cops wouldn't take a report for damage less than $1000.

  • Jim Collins

    Ticktock- The US Supreme Court states that the Police are under no obligation to protect anyone. (Gonzales vs Castle Rock).

    K Shah- Have you ever seen a government program that wasn't about jobs? How about one that is run efficiently?

    Pedro- Isn't it funny that you can't file an insurance claim without a Police report. Maybe Dan's right.

  • TCO

    In Virginia (Fairfax County) I had a very good experience with a Southern Gentleman of a police officer, who went to considerable pains regarding a $200 theft, and put the theif behind bars. Had the opposite experience in EVanston, Illinois with some fat Ditka-fan walrus type, who persuaded a girl at a party not to "press charges"* against a person who had vandalized her car (she had his name and everything).

    *there is no such thing...it is the state's duty to prosecute crimes.

  • http://sob.apotheon.org apotheon

    "Press charges" simply means "make the police do their effin' job."

  • Page

    Let me add mine then:

    Yesterday, I was pulled over for "running a stop sign." First off, I didn't run it, but secondly, he couldn't SEE the stop sign. He was on the road, coming around a bend, and couldn't see my stop sign which was 20 feet back from the road. All he saw was me accelerate after I stopped. Then he also gave me a speeding ticket. He claimed I was doing 51 in a 40 zone, even though like I told him, my digital display was at 47 because that's where my cruise control was set. And, it's a 45 zone. Then he says 47 in a 45 is still speeding. So now I have two tickets, one for running a stop sign, and one for failure to obey a traffic control device. And yes, this is going to court with plenty of pictures and to boot, he couldn't verify my speed, especially since his statement was "you were probably going faster." (If anything, I can at least get the stop sign one dropped.)

    To add, a couple of years ago I got a ticket for passing in a passing zone. That was what the ticket was for. Needless to say, when I showed up to traffic court with pictures of the dashed lines . . . Just think, when the officer pulled me over, and I asked him since when has the road I lived on my entire life not been a passing zone, his response was "it's never been a passing zone." In court, his defense was "oh, I thought he was going the other way." The other way, of course, was also a passing zone.

    But just last week, one of my girlfriends friends was attacked and the guy tried to rape her. Thankfully, she broke his hands before he could do anything. She called the police and the officers who showed up said they couldn't do anything about it, and that not to worry about it. Well, that didn't go over too well with me and now both of those "officers" are under criminal investigation. However, the guy who tried to rape her was found in Baltimore shot to death 3 days later. The only reason why the knew it was him was because of his broken hands.