Who is responsible?
May 17, 2010
by Ivan Raconteur

The latest entry in the Curmudgeon’s “people will complain about anything” file involves a recent police saturation patrol project in a local city.

It was announced in January that the department earned a $2,000 Safe and Sober grant, which was designated for additional saturation patrols (coordinated between local and county law enforcement, and the state patrol).

The department notified the public prior to the first patrol last month, both in the newspaper and on the public access cable channel.

The officers said the goal of the patrols is to change people’s behavior and keep people safe.

The department has won numerous awards for its efforts to improve public safety.

Despite the warnings, many residents, including the mayor and a city council member, were stopped during the patrols.

Most of those stopped were exceeding the speed limit by more than 10 mph.

While the first patrol was still in progress, residents began calling city council members to complain about it.

There was a sense of outrage among these callers. Some questioned why law enforcement officers were “wasting their time” enforcing the law, and others said the money should have been used for something else instead.

One resident suggested that it was unfair, and wondered “why there was a cop working on Saturday.” The implication was, if a police officer is not present, we need not follow the law.

It is also clear that some people feel that they should be able to pick and choose which laws they will follow, and which they won’t.

I suspect most of us, given the choice, would like to decide which laws we will accept.

For example, if the fish are really biting, we might want to ignore limits and fill our coolers with fish.

On the other hand, if the fish are not biting, and we are in no danger of catching our limit anyway, we might not mind accepting the legal limits.

Applying this line of thinking to driving, there might be times when we are in no hurry and don’t mind driving the posted speed limit.

Alternatively, if we are running late, or are just anxious to reach our destination, we might prefer to ignore speed limits, and indeed, some of us do.

One can see, however, how this arrangement could be problematic for officers.

They are hired to enforce the law and keep people safe, and yet, the very people they are trying to protect turn on them and complain when they enforce the law.

During the recent saturation patrols, some residents complained that there were “too many cop cars in town.”

The reality is, it doesn’t matter if there is a cop on every corner. If drivers wear their seat belts and avoid speeding, the officers will leave them alone.

We might ask why the cops are so hung up on safety.

I suspect it must be kind of a drag for officers and other emergency personnel to have to extract injured or deceased motorists from their cars.

I imagine it is also a fairly unpleasant task to have to contact a parent and tell him his child has been run down by a car or killed in a motor vehicle accident.

During the very period in which people were complaining about police who were enforcing traffic laws, the Minnesota Commissioner of Public Safety was sending out a letter to police departments across the state, noting that in the prior week, traffic crashes claimed more than a dozen lives in Minnesota, most of them young people.

The commissioner asked the police departments to redouble their efforts to enforce traffic laws in order to save lives.

The commissioner asked officers to adopt a zero-tolerance approach to seat belt enforcement. He also asked officers to make sure teens are complying with the provisions of the graduated drivers license restrictions.

When I was young, I thought anarchy was cool. Later, however, I realized it is not practical.

I don’t want the government telling me what to do, and I believe that there are too many laws, some of which are too restrictive.

However, living in civilized society means that we are all subject to a uniform set of laws. Not just the ones that are convenient, but all of them.

If we break those laws, whether we like them or not, there are consequences.

It comes down to personal responsibility.

Instead of looking for someone else to blame, there are times when we need to look in the mirror to find the cause of our misfortune.

Police officers are in a difficult position. If they enforce the law, some people call them jerks (or other uncomplimentary names).

On the other hand, if they choose not to enforce the law, and some kid gets killed as a result, they have to live with that for the rest of their lives, and critics will ask why they didn’t do their jobs.

Many people have already died unnecessarily this year, and we have not even reached the most dangerous season yet.

Soon, there will be graduations, summer parties, and the temptation that comes with sunny days and open roads.

There will also be more saturation patrols in the weeks ahead. If we do, through our actions, attract the attention of law enforcement officers, maybe we should accept it and take our medicine, rather than blaming others or whining to our elected officials.