The other shoe dropped in the Massachusetts State Police overtime scandal. A closet full of shoes. Twenty-one officers are in trouble for not making ticket quota.
Twenty years ago the euphemism was “quality violations.” Quality meant dollars. Officers who didn’t bring in enough revenue would lose overtime. Leadership put that in writing and learned a lesson about not putting things in writing.
Twenty years later nothing changed except the label. Police write “AIRE” tickets instead of “quality” tickets. AIRE allegedly stands for “accident and injury reduction effort.” It means speeding ticket revenue, same as ever.
A million dollars a year of overtime should bring in five million dollars revenue. Twenty-one officers took the money and didn’t bring in the revenue. One has been charged, another retired, and 19 more face the music in coming weeks.
Troop E has long been the revenue-raising arm of the State Police. This is a legacy of the Turnpike’s time as an independent agency. The Turnpike Authority got to keep ticket revenue and it had a dedicated police force to write tickets. Police were instructed to code tickets with Turnpike regulations instead of the corresponding state statutes to make sure the money went where it was supposed to.
We should thank those 21 officers, a little, for not doing their jobs. They stole a million dollars from the government, but they let people keep several million dollars. Still, that doesn’t merit a reward. Without Troop E the government would be a million dollars richer and the people would be no worse off.
If the Baker administration really thought speed was a problem police wouldn’t be shooting lasers from behind bridges.
When the Turnpike was under construction I wrote a letter to Robin Washington, then transportation reporter at the Boston Herald. I asked how I was supposed to use a left exit safely when traffic was moving over 60 in a 45 mph work zone and slower traffic had to keep right. He pulled a surprising answer out of State Police. It was OK for me to speed. Speed up to the flow of traffic for my own safety. Instead of running speed traps police would use rolling roadblocks if they needed to slow traffic.
Rolling roadblocks work. During the Dukakis administration police would drive side by side at the 55 mph speed limit. Dukakis was a true believer in low speed limits. His successors haven’t cared how fast we drove.
There are two reasons we have a 65 mph speed limit. The obvious one is revenue. But just as important is the cover your ass attitude of government officials who are afraid to turn de facto legal into de jure legal.
Forcing people to obey the speed limit would cut revenue while making everybody who drives angry. Raising the speed limit would draw fire from people who insist the goverment must rule with an iron fist. Ending ticketing would lose revenue.
It’s time to cut the knot. Governor Baker needs to take two steps in response to this scandal.
First, the speed limit on the Turnpike should be raised to reflect actual traffic conditions. In 80 mph speed zones out West there is high compliance with few speed traps. Drivers are watching traffic instead of checking Waze for speed traps.
Second, Troop E should be abolished. Merge it into the other four regional troops and rotate officers frequently so nobody’s job is collecting overtime on the Turnpike.
Revenue enforcement breeds corruption. We’ve seen it before and we’ll see it as long as the government treats drivers as wallets instead of people.
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