The case of the two-sided speed trap

Yes, it’s a bit old, but it wouldn’t surprise me if this is still happening somewhere. It’s still an interesting case study for the law enforcement officers who read my blog on how not to run a speed trap. (Yes, I know cops read my blog.)

This post on TheFreeThoughtProject.com tells the story of a Washington State Patrol speed enforcement effort using aircraft on Highway 2. The law enforcement officers caught speeding on their way to a non-emergency Drug Recognition Expert (DRE) conference were let off with a warning. The unlucky citizens caught speeding during the same operation, on the other hand… well, you probably already guessed this, but they got speeding tickets.

At least until someone who recorded the radio conversations between the trooper in the aircraft and the troopers on the ground found its way into the hands of news media. Those radio conversations were recorded by Bill Gilliam and posted to his blog.

According to this post to komonews.com, any civilians (non-LEOs) who received speeding tickets had them voided. One comment to Bill’s blog post by someone identifying himself as Peter G. offers some insight into the reason why:

KOMO news reports that all the charges against civilians on that stretch of road have been dropped. Did this happen because someone was ashamed of what happened? I doubt it. Did this happen because someone knew those civilians would get the charges dropped anyway, on the basis of selective enforcement? Sure. But the MOST important reason for dropping the charges is that those civilians could go into court, allege discrimination, and force WSP and all the officers at that conference to document all the unticketed violations. And with that information on the record, those uniformed violators– the speeders and the cops who let them go– would have to be prosecuted. So in other words, the criminal justice system is allowing ALL the criminals to go unpunished in order to protect its own.

In other words, rather than let themselves be pushed into a situation where they would have to prosecute a bunch of their own, the Washington State Police decided it would be better just to void all the tickets and write off the aircraft fuel, motor fuel, officer wages, and other expenses as a loss. Yep, your tax dollars at work, Washington…

I wouldn’t be nearly as disturbed if this was nominal speeding… say, up to around 70 mph in a 60 mph (a lot of speed limits are intentionally underposted by 5 to 10 mph). But seriously, setting aside for the moment the issue that these are the people we trust to enforce the law and keep us safe… what’s the excuse for over 80 in a 60? In some states that’s reckless driving automatically (North Carolina, Virginia, Hawaii, and Arizona per John Carr’s traffic law guide; there is also some kind of increased penalty for 20 over in Missouri and 15 over in Arkansas which is not stated clearly in that guide). In Texas, the option to dismiss with a driver safety course (defensive driving) disappears if you get busted for 25 mph or more over the limit, meaning one can be stuck paying a rather large fine. (Or at least the statutory requirement that they allow it disappears; on at least one court appearance, I’ve heard an ADA working that day says they’ll dismiss it anyway even if that’s the case.)

Those are the laws for the non-badged, anyway. What happens to cops caught speeding is anyone’s guess. It might be the same rules, but more often, the badge translates to a very heavy “get away with it” card. I’d honestly like to see that change.

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