“Seriously? It’s Come to This?”: NMA E-Newsletter #345

We find ourselves saying that a lot these days as we run across more and more stories like these:

The first comes from Edmonton, Alberta, where officials are considering disguising speed cameras as utility boxes. When asked about the idea, traffic safety director Gerry Shimko had nothing to say about the covert operation’s safety benefits. He instead responded with nonsensical statements about the success of the city’s speed camera program even as he acknowledges that speeding continues unabated. Unfortunately, the reporter didn’t ask him to define “success.”

Shimko also said that speeding is the number one priority for police and is more problematic than homicide or gang activity. Given that Edmonton has the fifth highest Crime Severity Index of any city in Canada, we wonder how the victims would respond to that statement.

And speaking of covert operations, Paradise Valley, Arizona, is in the “process of upgrading some of its public-safety related technology” by hiding automated license plate readers (ALPRs) in fake cactuses. Town Manager Kevin Burke said the cameras were placed out of sight for aesthetic reasons, not out of secrecy.

He added that technologies like plate readers and red-light cameras are most effective when people know where they are. A logical reportorial retort would have been, “Then why are you concealing surveillance devices in expensive, fake, arborescent cacti?”

In Jacksonville, Florida, city council members are considering an ordinance making it illegal to back a vehicle into a driveway unless the license plate is showing. The proposal would ostensibly help city inspectors crack down on the insidious practice of storing non-working vehicles on residential property. We also imagine it would make it easier for vehicle-mounted ALPRs to suck up as much plate data as possible.

Meanwhile the suburban Chicago village of Bull Valley is keeping people safe from commercial vehicles that don’t display the required signage. Seems an obscure statute requires commercial vehicles that haul ladders, construction materials, tools, etc., to bear the contractor’s company name.

And while the measure is supposed to cut down on fraud, no other communities in the area feel compelled to enforce it like Bull Valley, which has issued 71 “failure to display company name” citations in the last year. Joliet and Aurora each issued seven and the entire City of Chicago issued one. It’s worth noting that Bull Valley (population 1,111) makes nearly half of its municipal revenue off of fines and fees.

Not to be outdone in the Petty, Yet Arbitrary Traffic Enforcement Category, Massachusetts became the latest state to require drivers to turn on their headlights whenever their windshield wipers are on. At best, the law is arbitrary and unnecessary—we can think of several scenarios in which drivers would need to use their wipers sans headlights. At worst, it could create potentially dangerous road conditions and give police officers one more excuse to pull over and scrutinize responsible drivers.

As if police need any more help in that area. Consider the case of a Georgia cop who pulled over an elderly couple for a window tint violation. He then conducted a lengthy drug interrogation which ended with an unsuccessful drug dog sniff (a rare occurrence). He eventually let the couple go with a warning. Nonetheless, you cannot watch this video without thinking something has gone terribly wrong in certain quarters of law enforcement. What was it about this frail couple that aroused the officer’s suspicions? Their disability vehicle plates or maybe the menacing cocker spaniel in the backseat?

So, yes, it’s come to this: Cops who harass disabled people on the side of the road. Arbitrary traffic laws designed to enhance revenue collection and control. Public officials who babble nonsense and the complacent reporters who fail to challenge them.

These kinds of affronts occur daily all over the country, and it’s important to call them out. What stories make you say, “Seriously? It’s come to this?” Let us know and maybe we’ll include them in a future newsletter.

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