from the UNSUBSCRIBE dept
Way back in 2014, Oklahoma state senator (and former police officer) Al McAffrey had an idea: what if cops could issue traffic tickets electronically, without ever having to leave the safety and comfort of their patrol cars?
The idea behind it was officer safety. This would keep officers from standing exposed on open roads and/or interacting face-to-face with a possibly dangerous driver. The public’s safety was apparently low on the priority list, since this lack of interaction could permit impaired drivers to continue driving or allow actually dangerous people to drive away from a moving violation to do more dangerous things elsewhere.
It also would allow law enforcement agencies to convert drivers to cash more efficiently by speeding up the process and limiting things that might slow down the revenue stream, like having actual conversations with drivers. On the more positive side, it would also have lowered the chance of a traffic stop turning deadly (either for the officer or the driver) by limiting personal interactions that might result in the deployment of excessive or deadly force. And it also would limit the number of pretextual stops by preventing officers from claiming to have smelled something illegal while conducting the stop.
Up to now, this has only been speculative legislation. But it’s becoming a reality, thanks to government contractor Trusted Driver. Run by former police officer Val Garcia, the program operates much like the TSA’s Trusted Traveler program. Users create accounts and enter personal info and then receive traffic citations via text messages.
The program is debuting in Texas, where drivers who opt in will start being texted by cops when they’ve violated the law.
It’s a concept never done before, and it’s about to happen in Bexar County: Getting a traffic ticket sent to your phone without an officer pulling you over. One police department will be the first in the nation to test it.
“It’s not a 100% solution, but it’s a step forward in the right direction,” said Val Garcia, President & CEO of the Trusted Driver Program.
Garcia is one of five former SAPD officers who are part of a 12-member team that created and developed Trusted Driver.
“We’re proud to still give back with what we’ve gained with our experience as a law enforcement officer,” said Garcia.
The company claims the program will have several benefits, above and beyond limiting cop-to-driver interactions that have the possibility of escalating into deadly encounters. Some of the benefits aren’t immediately discernible, but giving cops more personal information could actually help prevent the senseless injury or killing of drivers who may have medical reasons that would explain their seeming non-compliance. Here’s Scott Greenfield highlighting this particular aspect of the Trusted Driver Program.
But this also offers an opportunity that can be critical in police interactions and has led to a great many tragic encounters.
“If you’re deaf, if you have PTSD, autism, a medical condition like diabetes or a physical disability but you’re still allowed to drive,” said Garcia. “It really gives an officer information faster in the field to handle a traffic stop if it does occur and be able to deescalate.”
That police will be aware that a driver is deaf or autistic could be of critical importance in preventing a mistaken shooting, provided the cop reads it and is adequately trained not to kill deaf people because they didn’t comply with commands.
Unfortunately, the cadre of cops behind Trusted Driver seem to feel citizens are looking for even more ways to interact with officers, even if this interaction is limited to text messages.
Through Trusted Driver, police are also able to send positive messages to drivers who are doing a stellar job obeying traffic laws.
Just like cops thinking they’re doing a good thing by pulling over drivers who haven’t committed a crime to give them a thumbs up or a Thanksgiving turkey, Trusted Driver seems to believe the public will be receptive to text messages from cops telling them they’re doing a good job driving, delivered to them via a number they associate with punishment for criminal acts. And it’s not like drivers in the program will be able to select which messages they receive: once you’ve opted in, you can have your heart rate temporarily increased by the law enforcement equivalent of slacktivism — one Trusted Driver believes will somehow build and repair the public’s relationship with the law enforcement officers that serve them.
This lies somewhere between the frontier of law enforcement and the inevitability of tech development. It’s not that it’s an inherently bad idea, but there’s a lot in there that’s problematic, including officers receiving increased access to driver’s personal info, which will now include their cell phone numbers. Law enforcement officers have a history of abusing access to personal info and this program gives them the opportunity to do so without ever leaving their patrol cars.
Then there’s the unanswered question about enforcement. Will members of this program receive more tickets just because they’re easier to ticket? Or will traffic enforcement still be evenly distributed (so to speak) across all drivers? Like other automated traffic enforcement efforts, tickets will be issued to the owner of the vehicle, rather than the actual driver, which is going to cause problems for people who haven’t actually committed a moving violation, beginning with increased insurance rates and possibly ending with bench warrants for unpaid tickets that were issued to the wrong person.
Still, it’s worth experimenting with. But it needs to be subject to intense scrutiny the entire time it’s deployed. There’s too much at risk for agencies and the general public to just let it hum along unattended in the background, steadily generating revenue. Unfortunately, if it does that part of the job (deepening the revenue stream), concerns about its use and operation are likely to become background noise easily drowned out by the sound of city coffers being filled.