Is law enforcement the answer?

From my post on Vision Zero and law enforcement, it might be assumed that I think increased enforcement is the answer. I’m not so sure. The problem is that law enforcement in general, and traffic enforcement specifically, has long been used as a tool by law enforcement to harass and oppress people of color, low income people, and the homeless. As a white male, or course, I don’t experience this, but I certainly observe it happening to others. I see it in Sacramento, I see it everywhere I travel. It is part of the purpose of law enforcement to maintain privilege for those in power. And it can, and does, also protect people. But the privilege function seems to me to overwhelm the protection function. It is certainly true that people of color and low income, and the homeless, do not trust law enforcement officers, because they have long been victims. Having a tail light out, which results in a stop, and frequently a search, and sometimes brutality, and sometimes even death, does not lead anyone including me to think that simple enforcement is a solution to traffic violence. And yet, ignoring the real threat of traffic violence, which affects people of color, low income, and homeless, far more than people of privilege, is not a solution either.

So, what to do?

Automated speed enforcement (ASE) is part of the answer. Cameras don’t racially profile, and assuming that there is no bias in sending tickets, does not oppress. The city has included a recommendation for ASE in the Vision Zero Action Plan: 3.4 Support state Automated Speed Enforcement legislation. Of course speeding is much better controlled by street design, but ASE can contribute to a reduction in the number and severity of collisions, particularly during the long period of time it will take to fix our unsafe streets.

I have a theory that most traffic violations, at least the ones likely to result in fatality and severe injury (KSI), are the result of what I call egregious violators, those who continuously and flagrantly violate the law. These are the ones that are not going 30 in. 25 mph zone, but going 50 in a 25. If ASE can catch these drivers, and eventually remove them from the road, I would expect a great decrease in KSI.

Another solution is to prevent law enforcement from using stops as a pretext, for the purpose of racial profiling. A stop should be just a stop, dealing with the violation and no more. That will take a change in law enforcement policies and attitudes, and probably changes in law that restrict officers in what they can do on traffic stops. When traffic stops shift from low riders to Escalade drivers, we will have made some progress.

Another solution, one implemented in some European countries, is that a traffic violations of safety significance results in a ticket whose amount depends on either the value of the vehicle or the income of the driver, and is not a flat rate. Standard violation fees, with court and processing costs added on, are a huge burden to many lower income people, while high income people hardly notice. If you don’t think that income matters, look at parking violations. Many higher income people routinely get parking tickets, every day, but it does not change their behavior, they see it just as part of the cost of getting the best parking spot and keeping it.

To implement Vision Zero in Sacramento, the community is going to have to talk about how law enforcement has long affected people of color, and continues to. We are going to have to come up with solutions that reduce and eliminate the effects of profiling based on race, income, and housing status, and the disparate impact of tickets on different income levels. I don’t have the answers, but I have faith that the WHOLE community does.

What do you think?