For Cops Handing Out Bogus Pedestrian Tickets, Ignorance Of The Law Is The Most Profitable Excuse
from the how-the-government-can-still-win-while-losing-most-of-the-time dept
Ignorance of the law is no excuse… unless you’re a police officer. Then it’s a magical world of immunity and good faith exceptions! But it gets even better. In Florida, ignorance of the law is highly-profitable.
On its face, Florida’s pedestrian statute 316.130(11) seems straightforward enough: fail to cross a street in a crosswalk where required, and you are liable for a ticket ranging from $51 to $77. The authorities across the state issue hundreds of the tickets every year with the public claim that they were trying to cut down Florida’s outsize number of pedestrian deaths.
Good for them. Whatever the government can do to cut down on deaths is probably good, considering the average Floridian’s propensity for harming themselves and others in extremely creative ways. The problem is it’s unclear how much safer Florida residents are going to be when they’re being busted for violations they didn’t commit. ProPublica looked at the data and found that a vast majority of pedestrian tickets aren’t backed by the law.
In Broward County, for instance, around 70 percent of the more than 3,300 crosswalk tickets issued in those years were given in error, according to the Times-Union/ProPublica examination. In Hillsborough County, where more than 500 crosswalk tickets were given, the percentage of bad tickets was around 80 percent; in Orange County, around 56 percent of the almost 650 tickets were given erroneously.
The letter of the law — which we are reminded is what really counts when the government enforces it — says no one is allowed to cross in the middle of street between two adjacent intersections with traffic lights. This is supposed to route people to intersections with crosswalks controlled by signals, rather than playing in traffic or taking their chances at less-controlled intersections. This isn’t how the law is being enforced. Police are ticketing people crossing between unprotected intersections as well. That doesn’t really make people that much safer.
[E]xamination shows that officers routinely write tickets for people crossing the street in places that are not in between intersections with traffic lights. In short, people are being punished for failing to avail themselves of safety features that aren’t readily accessible.
The official reaction to ProPublica’s report has been worse than a shrug. It’s been genuine indifference to the problems it causes people ticketed for non-violations of the law. Most law enforcement agencies said nothing more than recipients were welcome to challenge the bogus tickets in court. But people always could, so it’s not like the agencies are making some sort of concession, much less offering apologies or promises to improve. The “fight it in court” proposal is a non-starter, since it’s likely wages lost due to a day in court will far outweigh the face value of the ticket they never should have received. The potential savings of $55-77 just isn’t worth it for most people, so the government will continue to collect on bogus tickets simply because it’s hit a sweet spot in pricing.
Then there’s the reaction of this agency, which openly admits pedestrian stops aren’t about pedestrian safety or even actual violations of the law.
In Jacksonville, the sheriff’s office said it also used pedestrian tickets as a way to stop and question people suspected of criminal activity. The tickets, the officials said, gave officers probable cause to do so.
Except that an un-violated law isn’t really “probable cause.” Unfortunately, courts are often willing to grant officers the benefit of a doubt when it comes to the wording of the laws they enforce. They won’t extend this courtesy to citizens, but officers stand a fair chance of keeping evidence in play even if the evidence was derived from a bullshit pedestrian stop. Given that reality, there’s zero incentive for law enforcement agencies to improve officers’ knowledge of the laws they’re enforcing. In fact, the steady drip of $55-77 fees is the only incentive in play, and it’s skewed completely towards issuing as many tickets as possible for perceived violations.
And that brings us to another troubling finding: it appears pedestrian tickets are just another way for police officers to (further) hassle certain citizens.
In Hillsborough, blacks make up 18 percent of the population, but received 43 percent of the bad tickets, according to our data analysis. In Orange County, where 23 percent of the population is black, blacks were issued 40 percent of the bad tickets. In Miami-Dade, black residents are 16 percent of the population, but received 29 percent of the flawed tickets. And in Broward, 61 percent of the bad tickets went to blacks, who make up just 30 percent of population.
Pressure is going to have to come from above if anything is going to change. None of the law enforcement agencies offering comments or statements made any pledge to actually start enforcing the law as written. One stated pedestrian tickets had almost nothing to do with pedestrian traffic violations. And one agency disagreed with the findings, but refused to state why it refused to believe ticket stats it had generated itself.
This is the attitude of law enforcement agencies when confronted with their ignorance of the law. They simply do not care. Keep that in mind the next time someone says something about most cops being good people, etc. Those at the top — or at least those given the power to speak for law enforcement agencies — are not good people. If they’re leading by example, their departments are rotten to the core.