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Hiding with speed camera ‘not police work’

I had a conversation with a reader recently who called my office to discuss a government issue that’s been bothering him.

Readers often call our newsroom to vent, sometimes because they know — based on the position we have taken on our opinion page — that they are in friendly territory because we will agree with their assessment of a situation. And sometimes they call to argue and point out all the reasons we have taken the wrong approach to a political issue.

This day, the man who identified himself as a former police officer called to express his frustration at the growing use of speed cameras by local police. He had been traveling on state Route 11 heading into Liberty Township when he caught sight of a police officer “hiding” with a speed camera on the Anderson Morris Road overpass, apparently in search of speeders passing on the highway below.

As he expressed his anger with what he described as a “lack of police work,” he seemed unaware that our newspaper has frequently taken the position against this use of resources in an attempt to generate revenue, not just in Liberty, but across the board. When I told him our editorial board, of which I am a member, has addressed this issue many times, he was pleasantly surprised.

We call it “policing for profit.”

The man had been so angry when he noticed the officer on the bridge that he exited the highway and drove to the bridge where the police officer stood outside his cruiser, speed camera in his hand. Then the man did something so many of us probably have thought about doing but haven’t had the nerve.

Cellphone in hand, the man opened his window and video-recorded a curt but respectful exchange with the officer.

“You know, I’ll tell you something,” he began. “I support police, I was a cop, but with the attitude today and with people’s attitudes, this isn’t the way to keep people on your side.”

The officer looked at him with what appeared to be great surprise.

“You’re not doing police work. You’re collecting money,” he said.

And with that, he drove away.

Bravo!

During our telephone conversation, he relayed what he had done and he agreed to send me his cellphone video.

Indeed, motorists are becoming increasingly frustrated by police departments claiming that speed camera usage is intended to somehow increase traffic safety. Yet, they hide behind traffic barriers, trees and yes, even on highway overpasses, where motorists speed by obliviously — that is, until the citations show up in their mailboxes two weeks later. Someone tell me, please, how that is supposed to slow motorists and increase traffic safety.

If they were serious about trying to slow down speeding motorists, all they need do is park their cruisers in plain view of the highway. I guarantee you, speeding vehicles will slow down.

Camera usage might be defensible if officers used them only in documented high-traffic accident areas, or if the police are visible. The whole role of policing is service to the community — not to be a cash cow for the coffers.

The caller noted that to tuck yourself away and hide for the sole purpose of generating revenue is morally and ethically wrong and does nothing to strengthen any rapport between police and community.

And in following this man’s thought process, don’t police officers have more important things to do than take pictures of traffic? Really?

It appears that government officials who allow — even encourage — use of speed cameras have adopted this adage: If you can’t tax your way out of a fiscal difficulty, simply create new fees.

In response, though, we’ve been hearing from a growing chorus of constituents frustrated by speed camera tickets. Increasingly, we hear from these ticketed folks vowing to vote no on all future levy attempts.

To that I say, more power to you!

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