“How can I not be comfortable with compliance?” the police chief asked rhetorically.
Then we heard an example of why not. A nearby city used to do crosswalk stings. Plainclothes police stepped close in front of cars to make cars crash into each other. Maybe they were only aiming for brake slamming, but rear-enders are a predictable result.
Like red light cameras, crosswalk stings can make drivers more concerned with getting a ticket than driving safely. Violations of the law in question go down while crashes go up.
Often police set up markers at a distance based on a calculation involving the speed limit or the phase of the moon or something. They step into the street the moment a car reaches the marker. They justify this because the formula says the car should have stopped.
The law doesn’t set a distance where you have to stop. More the reverse. It’s illegal to step so close in front of moving traffic that vehicles can not stop safely. That means police have to put aside thoughts of making quota and pay attention to traffic before crossing the street.
Probably these stings aren’t even training drivers to do the right thing. A police officer trying to interfere with traffic doesn’t act like a pedestrian who just wants to get to the other side. I don’t expect drivers to react the same way.
An important Supreme Court case followed a state’s seizure of a house for unpaid taxes. The government knew the homeowner didn’t know about the tax sale. The Supreme Court said the government had it had to act as if it really cared about telling the homeowner rather than taking the easy money.
Likewise, crosswalk enforcement should use pedestrians who really care about crossing the street. Police in central Massachusetts provided a video last summer. Two officers were just crossing the street normally when they almost got hit. The driver got a ticket, and as far as I can see deserved one.
A video that made the rounds a couple years ago showed a police officer dressed as Donald Duck dancing back and forth in front of traffic and having confused drivers ticketed. That officer should be forbidden from ever setting foot on a public street ever again.
Safety isn’t a game.
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