June 5, 2021
We live along a busy stretch of road that runs north-south along the western section of our state and always has a lot of traffic. Even though it is a divided four lane road, it cuts through a populated area and the speed limits around us run from 45 to 55 mph. I have noticed it is also a favorite spot for both the highway police and the county sheriff. When I first moved to Arkansas Melissa warned me not to speed because they were often waiting for the traffic to whizz by. That is especially true on the weekends.
When I looked online, I found the city of Berkeley, California, moved forward Wednesday with a proposal to eliminate police from conducting traffic stops. They decided instead to use unarmed civilian city workers as part of a broad overhaul of law enforcement. The vote calls on the city manager to convene a “community engagement process” to create a separate department to handle transportation projects as well as enforcement of parking and traffic. The plan seems to be the first of its kind in the US to separate traffic from law enforcement. It comes as cities attempt broad safety reforms following the death of George Floyd while in police custody in May. The reform also seeks to remove armed officers from homeless services, mental health and crisis management, establishes a community safety coalition and steering committee, and initiates an analysis of police calls and responses.
As I took off to the grocery last Saturday I turned onto the highway and looked down to set my cruise control. I looked up as I crested the hill in time to see a patrol car sitting along the road. As I looked in my rearview and wondered how long it would take to catch a speeder, I saw his lights flash as he pulled someone over. I turned back to the road and noticed another patrol car just ahead. Again, just after I passed his lights flashed and another car was pulled over. In the next mile I saw two more sheriff cars, and one of them had also stopped a speeder. On my way home I saw another had someone pulled over. A mile passing the four cars searching for speeders, I passed a car broken down at the side of the road and the driver stranded. I wondered if it might have been better to focus on “serve.”
Thoughts: I worked as a security guard when I lived in Berkeley. We had a constant stream of traffic coming onto our grounds at night to sleep. My job was to ask them to move on. While I never made one, I always wanted to make a tee shirt with our logo and the words, “To Harass and Badger” circling around the shield. The Bureau of Justice web site indicates the most frequent interaction with police is from a traffic stop, and Black people are more likely than whites to be targeted for investigatory stops that have nothing to do with driving (to search for drugs or check for warrants). These are inherently tense situations that result in a higher proportion of deadly shootings involving Black drivers. If unarmed persons conducted the stop or cameras captured and issued tickets these situations would be far less confrontational. That might allow the police time to provide protection. Do the work. Change is coming and it starts with you.