Flower power, funding for cops

Flower power,

funding for cops

Two things have happened or been written that I wish to comment on.

First, the other morning I found a potted geranium sitting on the planter box wall in my front yard. I thought it was something my wife had left there. But when I picked it up, there was a card in an envelope beneath it. The card was from a woman named, Jackie who left the plant as a thank you for our having the wall in our front yard that she and her little one, Emily, could rest on.

I don’t know if we have met Jackie or not, but regardless, this little blessing touched our hearts greatly. Jackie, I hope you are reading this, as I want you to know how much your gift and especially the note that came with it touched us. Both Deb and I hope we do meet and speak with you one day.

Second is in reference to a recent letter commenting on how we might address the speeding traffic issue. As a citizen, I am concerned about this issue. As a city councilor, I feel that I am charged with a responsibility to help resolve it. The letter suggested that we fund additional police officers to monitor traffic by using the fines paid for traffic citations they issue.

I too posed a question to this effect in the recent budget committee meetings when we reviewed the police budget. I asked the question not to recommend a course of action, but to understand the rational of why we don’t or should not do this.

One thing that was pointed out is that none of the funds for traffic citations go to the police budget. The Police Department is funded totally from the levy, which hopefully will pass in November. I believe the funds from citations go to the judicial system.

I do not at this time know what it would take to alter this (whether council action could do it or voters would have to be involved, or even if there is a legal restriction that prevents us from making a change), however something would be required to allow citation income to fund the police.

Another thing to keep in mind is that just because a citation is issued, a fine may not be assessed or if assessed, may not be collectable given the citizen’s financial status. Judges have discretion and try to work with citizens to achieve an equitable result; in this case, obedience of the traffic laws. Fines are a big stick. Sometimes it is necessary to use a big stick to alter behavior but sometimes the shock of being pulled over is enough to achieve that result.

Finally is what I believe to be the most important consideration. It involves our desire for how our community is perceived by our citizens and our visitors. Say we add police officers solely funded by income from citations.

Initially, we feel it is neat because we finally have traffic enforcement dealing with those that blatantly break the speed laws. This succeeds and the blatant infractions are few and far between. What now, the officers still need to bring in income to justify their employment. So now we focus on those that skirt the legal limit by keeping it under 10 mph over the posted speed.

That works so now we work on those going any speed over the posted limit. This may provide continued income as people just passing through are likely to get caught out by the Coffee Hut where the speed changes from 45 to 35, or by McDonalds where it changes to 25, or in front of a school after 7 p.m. and before 6 a.m. when cars exceed 20 mph.

Hey, fines are double there, aren’t they? That’s a potential gold mine. All during these phases, the officers realize their jobs depend on the tickets they issue. The incentive then becomes to find or to embellish a circumstance to generate income.

You see where I’m going with this. A police force that supports itself from the fines that are levied on the citizenry soon becomes an oppressive overlord that we are in fear of rather than having respect for. I don’t think this is a good vision for Sweet Home. The vision I have for Sweet Home is more in line with Jackie and Emily, who transit the town and enjoy the little, special things in it.

We do have a traffic enforcement problem. I believe our police officers are as frustrated with the lack of staff to address this issue adequately as are you and I. However, there is no simple answer to the issue that will resolve it. I believe there are a couple of approaches we might consider. First we need to add additional patrol officers. The current budget calls for a minimal increase.

It is a start but still doesn’t bring the average number of calls each officer must answer to an acceptable level. Another thing we might try is using technology to help our limited force focus on problem areas effectively. Technology exists that will allow us to gather information on traffic speed patterns. Using this information we can have patrols monitor problem areas during the times when the greatest issue exist. This at least will maximize the benefit we get from the use of our limited patrol staff.

I do not believe this is the answer to all our issues, but it is a start that can be accomplished without having to alter funding in a manner that might have unintended and undesirable results.

I encourage any citizen that has ideas on how we might address our traffic issues to communicate their ideas to our Traffic Safety Committee. The other thing I encourage my fellow drivers to do, is drive responsibly. I need to heed this admonition as much as anyone else. I find it helps to remember that this is my home and the people in it are my friends and neighbors.

I would be devastated if I brought harm to them. So driving responsibly is a just a neighborly thing to do.

Rich Rowley

Sweet Home