Remember when red light cameras and speed radar first arose as a great idea, essentially free money for municipalities with no due process for the “convicted,” who might not have been the violators if there even was a violation, which couldn’t be clear because who knew if the machines were working right, properly calibrated, or just taking random pics and sending out tickets because there was money to be made?
Criminal law reformers hated them, challenged them, and they were ultimately held unlawful and in disrepute, banned and rejected as a foolish and dangerous idea. But that was then and this is now, and suddenly it’s not merely back as part of the neo-reformed simplistic solution to intransigent problems, but what was once roundly acknowledged as dumb and simplistic is now “such a smart idea.”
For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.
–H. L. Mencken
At The Appeal, they make the pitch.
- Cities should transfer traffic enforcement to non-police. Those responsible for making sure traffic rules are followed should be unarmed and separate from criminal law enforcement and investigations. Last year, Berkeley, California passed a proposal to remove traffic enforcement from police duties; Los Angeles; Philadelphia; New York; Cambridge, Massachusetts; and Montgomery County, Maryland have also considered transferring traffic enforcement away from police.
- Cities should also increase their use of “automated enforcement,” like speed detectors and traffic cameras. Not only do these tools reduce contact between drivers and enforcers, they also reduce racial disparities in enforcement.
- Polling shows that this approach to traffic enforcement is popular with a majority of likely voters. But cities should still be ready for pushback. They can respond with public education campaigns and specialized training for those tasked with traffic enforcement. Public education can also help counter the false narrative that traffic enforcement is “dangerous” and “high risk.”
It’s not that these “solutions” aren’t well-intended, or don’t arise because of real problems.They are and they do.
- Policing turns routine traffic stops into deadly encounters. An NPR investigation into deaths of 135 unarmed Black people shot by police since 2015 found that “more than a quarter of the killings occurred during traffic stops.” New York Attorney General Leticia James recommended removing the New York Police Department from everyday traffic enforcement, pointing out that “the vast majority of traffic stops…do not involve criminal conduct, yet often end in violence.”
- Racial disparities abound in traffic stops. Data consistently shows Black drivers are stopped and searched more often than white drivers, despite searches of white drivers more often turning up evidence of crimes.
- Police spend a lot of time enforcing traffic rules. Non-police traffic enforcement would free up police resources, giving departments more officers and time to focus on solving homicides and other violent crimes.
But as has been discussed before, and before that, reforms that trade one bad thing for another bad thing, particularly when their underlying nothing is seriously unrealistic and highly likely to not merely fail to solve intransigent problems but give rise to the next wave of obvious dangerous and deadly consequences, why do they continue to be promoted as clear and simple solutions?
It would be fun to be able to cheer for simplistic reforms as if they’re going to produce that wonderful society where no one is stopped because of their race, no cop needlessly shoots anyone and the few police remaining can spend their days investigating those crimes that reformers still believe worthy of concern, mostly based on the race or social status of the perp. I know I would be far more popular and beloved by the unduly passionate neo-reform community if I stopped being such an old curmudgeon who always raises problems with their cool new simple Utopian reforms.
The problem is that if no one says they’re counterproductive, tried-and-failed ideas that won’t work anyway, the havoc wreaked on society by these simplistic reforms will leave a lot of misery, and more than a few dead bodies, in their wake. Yet, who wants some old guy to be the wet blanket at their beach party when there are other old guys who tell them they’re so very smart?
Mencken understood human nature years ago. So too did Chesterton as they tore down his fence. Something should be done, but this ain’t it. And yet, it keeps coming up as the answer as if more words murdered will make the simplistic solution finally work.