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.


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Jan 2018 @ 4:24pm

    NAACP needs to sue the state

    The state will continue to use this bad law to target minorities until it is forced to repeal it and refund everyone who was ticketed under the law. Cops claim ignorance is no excuse, yet they are some of the most ignorant people in existance.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      ralph_the_bus_driver (profile), 6 Jan 2018 @ 6:07am

      Re: NAACP needs to sue the state

      There is only one way to do that and it is to have a class action suit against the County in Federal Court.

      We were lucky to have had Holder enact penalties against several towns around St. Louis that were robbing citizens blind. Finally the State enacted a law that municipalities could not raise more than 30% of their budget from traffic offenses.

      I miss the Obama Administration.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 8 Jan 2018 @ 8:34am

      Re: NAACP needs to sue the state

      All POLICE LIE! They will tell you anything to make you do whatever they want. They don't care. Nothing will happen to them. Because of the Blue Line, the other police around them will stand there and let it all happen. They're not going to stop any abuse. They protect each other. In the end, makes them ALL bad.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Unanimous Cow Herd, 5 Jan 2018 @ 4:35pm

    I quit reading at "Florida"

    I quit reading at "Florida".

    Is there not anything strange happening in Florida?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Jan 2018 @ 5:56pm

    who cares ?

    sure, cops don't care -- but neither do judges at all levels, nor mayors/governors/legislators nor the legal profession. Gotta love that democracy & rule of law stuff -- works great?

    basic problem is cops have been given judicial powers they absolutely should not have under basic U.S. (and Florida) law.

    Cop issuing a jaywalking ticket is a formal "accusation" of wrongdoing AND a cop-command to appear in court (or maybe just skip any judicial due process and mail in the fine $$). But cops have zero legal authority to order anybody to appear in court -- that's strictly a judicial power exercised by judges/magistrates who supposedly KNOW the law well and can "judge" the cop-alleged facts of the case... before dragging citizens into court.

    local traffic courts are mostly assembly lines designed to extract money from the public. Judges and DA's side with their cop team mates 99% of the time, rubber-stamping cop actions.

    Lose the basics of judicial due process-- and you lose the citizen protections of the rule of law.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 6 Jan 2018 @ 7:42am

      Re: who cares ?

      I do not think "rule of law" is/was intended to protect anyone but those in power at the time.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Tanner Andrews (profile), 8 Jan 2018 @ 6:22am

      Re: who cares ?

      local traffic courts are mostly assembly lines designed to extract money from the public. Judges and DA's side with their cop team mates 99% of the time

      Oddly enough, that is not my experience. Florida and particularly my county have some really bad judges, but we have some decent judges as well. And even the bad judges have areas in which they are particularly bad and other areas in which they at least pretend to be fair.

      Traffic, on the other hand, seems to be an outlier. Maybe it is because so many people are there that they do not want to take chances of an enraged populace, but they do pretty well. Even the hearing officers do pretty well, and if you want a judge instead of a hearing officer then you get one for asking.

      If the other cases were handled as reasonably as traffic, at least in the counties where I have done traffic, people could have more confidence in the judicial system. Judges and hearing officers both seem to follow the law there. Admittedly, I average less than 2 cases/year in traffic, and your milage may vary.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 5 Jan 2018 @ 6:37pm

    One-sided incentives and penalties

    If a member of the public doesn't know the law, they are still held accountable to it and it can and will cost them.

    If a cop doesn't know the law, they are not held accountable to it and it can and will cost the public.

    Not knowing the law is expensive whether you have a badge or not, but the same party pays either way, and it is almost never the ones with badges. So long as ignorance of the law is profitable rather than penalized for those theoretically tasked with upholding it you'll continue to have stories like this.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 5 Jan 2018 @ 9:11pm

      Re: One-sided incentives and penalties

      Which is why it boggles the mind why they keep adding new ones. The old laws seem to work just fine - you'll already have broken at least a bunch of them to toss you away for a long time, and if you don't know the old laws you get punished for it anyway. Introducing new laws to penalize people under just seems not worth the effort.

      (Well, to be fair there is a point for introducing new laws. To put up a facade that you care, and to feed the psychopathic need.)

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 5 Jan 2018 @ 9:12pm

      Re: One-sided incentives and penalties

      A story some time ago .. LEOs thought they could make up their own laws.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Jan 2018 @ 7:31pm

    And some People wonder why
    "FUCK THE POLICE"
    has become such a great catchphrase

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Jan 2018 @ 8:44pm

    Wrong analysis for disparate impact

    Blacks may be ticketed at a higher rate than their representation in the population, but that doesn't necessarily mean the enforcement is racist. The cops are (presumably) ticketing pedestrians, not just people, so if blacks are more likely to be pedestrians than the average citizen, then they're more likely to be hit by these bogus tickets even if the tickets are administered in a race-blind way. The right test is not to look at the percentage of the population that is black, but to look at the percentage of the pedestrian population that is black.

    It's also possible that blacks are disproportionately likely to be pedestrians in areas where these bogus tickets are easy to write. It may be that all pedestrians are equally likely to use traffic light crosswalks whenever such are available, but that blacks tend to be over-represented in areas where the no such crosswalks exist, which makes them more vulnerable to these bogus tickets.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 5 Jan 2018 @ 9:14pm

      Re: Wrong analysis for disparate impact

      It's also possible that blacks are disproportionately likely to be subjected to stop 'n frisk.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Stephen T. Stone (profile), 5 Jan 2018 @ 10:14pm

      Re: Wrong analysis for disparate impact

      If we accept the premise that policing is color-blind, I would have to ask why more Black people are pedestrians than any of the other four major American ethnic categories (White, Asian, Hispanic, and Indigenous). Your speculation would be better if it addressed the systemic issues such as generational poverty, difficulty in obtaining proper identification, and sub-par education that Black Americans face more often than not.

      Oh, and one more thing: We cannot and should not pretend that policing is color-blind. Cops are not gods; they come from the same flawed mass of humanity as politicians, carpenters, and that one waitress who continually spits in your coffee because you looked at her funny that one time. Everyone carries their biases with them wherever they go, including their job. To say otherwise and mean it would be to believe in a giant load of bullshit.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        JEDIDIAH, 6 Jan 2018 @ 7:43am

        Been there, done that.

        I've been stopped and hassled for walking while shaggy. So I am not impressed by this "victim of society" argument. You're assuming a crime has been committed based purely on a self-serving interpretation of the facts.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Scooby, 6 Jan 2018 @ 11:36am

          Re: Been there, done that.

          ruh-roh

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Stephen T. Stone (profile), 6 Jan 2018 @ 6:37pm

          Re: Been there, done that.

          I am not impressed by this "victim of society" argument.

          You do not have to be impressed. You merely have to accept that, in the United States, Black people as an ethnic group have faced more bigotry, discrimination, and racially-motivated violence from both the state and regular citizens than damn near any other ethnic group. Only Indigenous Americans could claim to have faced worse circumstances than Black Americans. And I say this not to paint those two groups as eternal victims, but to recognize the reality of American history: This country was founded by racists and built on the premise of White supremacy. By accepting this, we can have a better discussion of the realities that Black Americans face in the here and now.

          You're assuming a crime has been committed based purely on a self-serving interpretation of the facts.

          I did not say a crime has been committed. That said: A legal act is not always an act that is morally righteous/in service of justice.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 6 Jan 2018 @ 1:56pm

        Re: Re: Wrong analysis for disparate impact

        Why do you think that speculation needs to address the traditional list of grievances? If those things are applicable here, they each individually would explain why blacks are overrepresented among pedestrians; such overrepresentation would in turn make blacks disproportionately likely to be ticketed even by color-blind policing. Those grievances outline real problems, but if applicable, provide a racism-free explanation of this particular situation.

        Grandparent isn't asserting that the cops are or are not racist. Grandparent is pointing out that the quoted basis for suspecting racism is poor, because it can easily be explained away by other factors, and as such is likely to be hand-waved away by anyone who doesn't want to discuss it. To be useful, the allegation needs to be backed by evidence that lacks reasonable innocuous explanations. For example, show that there is a correlation between skin color and receiving a bogus ticket, after controlling for number of pedestrians crossing the street without a crosswalk, in the areas that the cops haunt, at the times the cops are present. Exclude pedestrians who never give the cops the pretext to issue a ticket (by crossing only at crosswalks or not crossing at all). Exclude people who never walk through the area. Etc.

        As another explanation (admittedly unlikely since so few people on either side of the badge actually know the law), what if the problem is blacks are disproportionately likely to know and obey the letter of the law, so they cross in these places because they know it is legal, so they expect not to be ticketed (but people of other races, being less sure of the law, prefer marked crosswalks)?

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Stephen T. Stone (profile), 6 Jan 2018 @ 6:55pm

          Re: Re: Re: Wrong analysis for disparate impact

          Why do you think that speculation needs to address the traditional list of grievances? If those things are applicable here, they each individually would explain why blacks are overrepresented among pedestrians; such overrepresentation would in turn make blacks disproportionately likely to be ticketed even by color-blind policing. Those grievances outline real problems, but if applicable, provide a racism-free explanation of this particular situation.

          Under this premise, the entire reason that Black Americans would be disproportionally targeted for tickets is systemic racism, even if the police themselves remain impossibly color-blind.

          Grandparent isn't asserting that the cops are or are not racist. Grandparent is pointing out that the quoted basis for suspecting racism is poor, because it can easily be explained away by other factors, and as such is likely to be hand-waved away by anyone who doesn't want to discuss it.

          The simplest and most probable explanation, which would be “the cops target Black people because they know they can get away with it”, seems like the best one to assume given the history of policing in the United States. If evidence can prove the targeting of Black Americans in this instance was not done because of racial profiling on the part of the police, I would love to see it.

          To be useful, the allegation needs to be backed by evidence that lacks reasonable innocuous explanations.

          Define “reasonable innocuous explanations”—and take into account that American police officers routinely get away with violating the rights of Black people, up to and including killing them.

          For example, show that there is a correlation between skin color and receiving a bogus ticket, after controlling for number of pedestrians crossing the street without a crosswalk, in the areas that the cops haunt, at the times the cops are present. Exclude pedestrians who never give the cops the pretext to issue a ticket (by crossing only at crosswalks or not crossing at all). Exclude people who never walk through the area. Etc.

          If I had access to that kind of data, I would at least give it the ol’ college try. But I do not, so I cannot. The best I can do is work with the given information in this article and combine it with my opinions on American policing, which I will admit are weighted towards the negative. All I can claim to be doing is the same kind of speculation as anyone else here—no more, no less.

          As another explanation (admittedly unlikely since so few people on either side of the badge actually know the law), what if the problem is blacks are disproportionately likely to know and obey the letter of the law, so they cross in these places because they know it is legal, so they expect not to be ticketed (but people of other races, being less sure of the law, prefer marked crosswalks)?

          I would think the cops are targeting people who do not actually break the law to pad their numbers, possibly to meet some form of internal quota for tickets/arrests. In such a situation, if cops targeted Black people more than other ethnic groups despite the majority of Black people obeying the law, that would look pretty goddamned racist.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 6 Jan 2018 @ 5:54pm

      Re: Wrong analysis for disparate impact

      To quote the current Australian Ambassador to the USA Joe Hockey, who stated when the Australian Federal Treasurer "Poor people don't drive".
      And we shall make sure they never get rich by fineing them for the most BS infringements of the law whilst letting our super rich mates off with everything including fraud & murder.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    David, 6 Jan 2018 @ 2:47am

    And another bad statement:

    Except that an un-violated law isn't really "probable cause."

    Probable cause usually will not be in violation of a law because if we are talking about violation of a law, we already have a reason to arrest a person.

    Suspicious circumstances making for probably cause do not as themselves be probable cause.

    If someone bursts out of a shop and is running across the street in a panic, it doesn't really matter whether the next intersection has traffic lights or not that a police officer may ask the person to stop. If he is fleeing as a victim, the officer can provide protection, if as a perpetrator...

    You get the gist. Of course assuming a hypothetical world where the basic function of policemen is to serve and protect. Haha. But it makes for a reasonable story.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 6 Jan 2018 @ 4:33am

      Re: And another bad statement:

      This makes sense on paper, but in reality cops are more likely to violently take down someone running if they are black than any other race. They make up the reason later.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 6 Jan 2018 @ 7:46am

      Re: And another bad statement:

      Or, they were running away because the building was about to explode due to a gas leak, the cop stops them thus causing both their death and the cop.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 6 Jan 2018 @ 7:17am

    Florida cops need to up their game ;)

    While they were fooling around with this nonsense, the Baltimore Gun Trace Task Force (GTTF) was busy conducting searches without warrants, stealing guns, selling guns, stealing drugs, selling drugs -- all of it while not only on the city's payroll, but while on duty.

    And -- and this is really the best part -- some of it happened past their normal shift hours, so they filed for and were paid overtime rates for all this.

    So take notice, Florida cops: if you really want to make the big time, you're going to need to do a lot more than just ticket pedestrians.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 6 Jan 2018 @ 7:50am

      Re: Florida cops need to up their game ;)

      I imagine there are those who at one time aspired to become a law enforcement officer but then they saw the movie Training Day and subsequently chose a different career path.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 6 Jan 2018 @ 9:23am

    And the strong shall prey on the week.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Cowherd, 6 Jan 2018 @ 9:36am

    Deterrent fail

    I would hazard a guess someone who isn't deterred by the risk of death, probably won't think twice of a risk of being fined either.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    George, 17 Apr 2018 @ 6:32pm

    Handing out bogus pedestrian tickets

    Please people let's not lose site of the fact that this is happening all across the state. Here in pompano Beach i was ticketed for crossing on a red light. But i know human nature and can think for myself and i know if I'M not aware of my surroundings you could end up dead. Therefore i chose to follow my instincts and cross when the time was right. "Forgetaboutit",this cop comes out of the bushes and proceeds to ask for my ID, I SAY WHAT FOR AND HE TELLS ME I CROSSED THE STREET ILLEGALLY. IMAGINE THAT, I'm just trying to keep from getting hit by a car and i'm
    violating the law. Needless to say i received a ticket for questioning the judge and jury. By the way i'm am white so don't let that be your measurement for what is happening in the state right now. IT'S ALL ABOUT THE MONEY, FOLLOW THE MONEY!!!!!!!! How do I KNOW, He told me so. it's a new program to raise "awareness" or you get a ticket if you don't comply.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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