For the first time ever, I got a traffic ticket issued by a “Big Brother” computer. Not a cop, just a computer with a camera…and a clearinghouse in Rhode Island. Oh, the ticket was for a traffic violation in Alpharetta, but the bill comes from Providence, RI.
I won’t argue the point – I did run the red light at the intersection of Old Milton and North Point Parkway. According to the photos enclosed, I was about a foot from entering the intersection when the light turned.
It was a heinous offense against society that could have meant the end of the world as we know it, because we all know that no one has ever clipped a red light – especially in Alpharetta. Needless to say, this kind of hoodlum-run-amok crime has to be reined in – at all costs – like maybe a $70 fine.
The truth is I was trying to get back home to Johns Creek and to my wife who was recuperating after having had surgery. I wasn’t speeding, but I most likely was not thinking as clearly as I normally would have been – evidenced by the fact that I have a pretty good driving record. Again, I’m not making excuses, just suggesting a reason. Of course, the computer doesn’t know this – and doesn’t care.
Nor does Alpharetta.
After all, collecting $70 like a toll booth is obviously much more important – and efficient – than having a cop there, right? I mean we’ve all read the headlines and we’ve all seen the decay of the social order in Alpharetta. And with such rampant crime permeating the town, the cops in Alpharetta are overwhelmed by the unrelenting wave of crime that continues to engulf the town daily.
Actually, the cops really are doing what they should be doing – and Alpharetta is a better town for it. It’s just that the bean counters in Alpharetta’s city management have found a faster, more efficient and absolutely non-personal way of fleecing more cash from people.
I don’t know, maybe I’m just old fashioned.
You see, back in the day when I was at the police academy in Texas – let’s see, that must have been, what, about 158 years ago this summer, I think – our department incorporated the “human element” in police work. Wow, now there’s a concept –city government allowing police interaction with the public.
Had a traffic stop such as this been made, the cop most likely would have still written the ticket – I’d say about an 80 percent likelihood - but, in the process, two things would have occurred: The motorist would have been given a chance to explain the situation and the motorist would have remembered what happened.
The second part is key.
You see, despite the pictures that accompanied this city revenue enhancement – and that’s what it is, a city funding source meant to drum up additional revenue – along with the time and place, I don’t recall a thing.
However, when you’re stopped by a cop, you always remember the stop: the time of day, why you were stopped and what you were doing – always. It’s a guy with a badge explaining the situation and expressing the need for safe driving. But it’s more than that – it is good community relations if handled right.
“Good afternoon, Sir. I’m Officer Joe Fabeetz – Anytown, USA Police Department. Can I see your license and Proof of Insurance, please?” That was how we were taught to do it and that’s how virtually all law enforcement officers do it – professionally, with dignity and in person.
“Mr. Smith, I stopped you was because you failed to heed the traffic signal two blocks back. Is there a reason for that?” Again, you’re going to be asked that by a person, not a computer.
“Well, Sir, I’m going to have to issue you a citation….” And so it would go – with a real cop.
Or maybe it would go, “Sir, I can see you’re sweating and having trouble breathing. I’m calling for EMS right now.” The cop – that is to say the real person standing there – would then have an EMS unit dispatched and would begin administering any aid that’s needed, including CPR if necessary. It’s been known to happen.
But computers can’t do that. Cameras can’t do that. Somebody processing the revenue enhancement bill in Rhode Island can’t do that.
No, Alpharetta, like a lot of towns these days, just wants the money. It’s really that simple. There is no concern for community relations, just community revenue.
That’s why they make it clear on the bill that the ticket is not going to be used by your insurance company to raise your rates (right) and that there is no criminal charge. The bean counters just want more money.
But they also make it clear that, unless you want to specifically dispute the allegation that you were actually driving the vehicle, you are not allowed to fight the ticket, appeal the ticket or even try to explain the circumstance surrounding the issuance of the ticket in court – you know, that basic right we are supposed to all have to face our accusers? After all, that’s just not cost effective, now, is it? Besides, who would you accuse, the computer, the camera, the guy in Rhode Island processing the bill?
Make no mistake about it – it is only about the money.
It’s sort of like the way banks have gone – ATM transactions are preferred to actually going in and talking with a teller or a bank officer. They’ll even hit you with a fee if you do seek the personal interaction, because they think that personal contact is just not cost effective.
I’m going to pay the fine because I certainly don’t want Alpharetta to go broke. But relying on computers to collect money - because that’s all they can do - and not allowing interaction between the public and a real law enforcement officer during a traffic stop is a bad message to send.
When a law enforcement agency separates itself from the public it serves, it fosters a sense of “we” and “they” and not a since of “community.” By contrast, even when a motorist is stopped and ticketed by a cop, that human element of letting the driver know the police are still there – maintaining that thin blue line and protecting the public – makes for good community relations. Otherwise, the message is that the safety and general welfare of community just doesn’t matter to elected officials and city management as much as collecting money without recourse – like a “highwayman” from the days of old.