Monday, December 1, 2008

Enough with the speed trap!

That was the subject line on this email I received last Tuesday, which I have condensed somewhat due to length:

"Come on guys, enough with the speed trap at the bottom of the hill on A Street right by 70th. It is the equivalent of entrapment. You have people going down a hill, so their rate of speed goes a bit faster, and so you are jumping on them there. I was astounded to get a ticket the other day, because I have to pull out from a side street where I live, I was ticketed for momentum, basically. And by an officer who was sullen. I have seen this speed trap there for the better part of a year, usually at the end of the month when you need to write more tickets. It comes off as abuse of power. It is these sort of actions by policemen that causes us citizens to lose respect for you and bad blood between you and the neighborhood. Thank you for your consideration."

The complaints about speed traps are almost as common as the complaints about the lack thereof. There is no single issue that citizens complain to me more about than speeding in their neighborhood. I would say that this is especially true for anyone who lives within a mile or so of a high school. This particular speed trap is midway between two: Lincoln East High School and Pius X High School. The value of the hill is not in creating "momentum," rather it is in limiting visibility: you can't see the radar until it's already seen you. Since the citation this correspondent received was for 11-15 MPH over the limit, I think we can safely assume that gravity was not the culprit.

Citizens who complain about speeding in their neighborhood, of course, are normally referring to speeders other than their own friends, family members, and selves. I sometimes have to shake my head at the mental process whereby someone complains bitterly about red light runners, but then himself guns it through every yellow light he encounters.

Let us dissect the concept of a speed trap. Colloquially, I think this means a location where speeders are easily snagged by police officers. Snagging speeders, of course, is part of our job. Before anyone has a conniption, let me reiterate that the Nebraska Constitution specifies that fines be paid into the general fund of the school district: a ticket benefits the City of Lincoln and the Lincoln Police Department not one whit. If we wrote no tickets at all, we'd actually save quite a bit of money.

In Lincoln, as elsewhere, speed traps tend to have a few common characteristics. First, it's a location where there is a suitable supply of speeders. This criterion is met at places near high schools, arterial streets with moderate traffic flows that allow you to isolate single vehicles, and collector streets in residential areas. Second, it is a location where speed enforcement can be established with a certain element of surprise. Third, it's an area that is accessible to the police. There are some places where it's tough to set up enforcement due to such things as high-volume, elevated roadways, the lack of an area where stationary radar can be safely deployed, no good place to safely pull cars over, and so forth.

Since the characteristics of speed traps can be described, they are rather easy to identify if you think about it. There are several locations in Lincoln where to this day I double check my speedometer. Call it muscle memory from 40 years of driving in this City, but I'm tapping the brake and checking the needle anytime I'm westbound on Vine from 46th Street. And that, folks, is the purpose of a speed trap: it is our job to enforce speed limits. That means writing tickets, and trusting that people will have that experience (or the sight of someone else having it) in the back of their mind as their speedometer creeps to 57 MPH on Old Cheney Road west of 70th Street.

Speed traps are predictable to the thinking motorist, and fairly easy to avoid if you use your head rather than your foot. Enforcing traffic laws is an important part of our role in promoting public safety. Why should we be criticized for doing so with a certain degree of efficiency? Nobody likes to get a ticket, but I think we all realize that there is only one person to blame.

34 comments:

Anonymous said...

The term speed trap implies that law enforcement is doing something illegal. It is not a trap. You make the choice to speed. If you tell us that you did not know the speed limit then you are obviously not paying attention. Speeding is a choice one makes. Nothing we do "traps" you into speeding.

OnBelay said...

"I was astounded to get a ticket the other day"...

Well, "stupefied" is almost the same as astounded, and if he's seen the officers ticketing there for three years, I'd call him stupefied.

I don't agree with you in calling them "traps", Chief. That term implies that people wouldn't be speeding if you weren't somehow suckering them into it. I live two blocks from the intersection of Thunderbird Blvd. and South 14th, and am usually smiling like a madman whenever officers are enforcing the South 14th speed limit on that stretch. I suppose the OP would say he had to build momentum to get over the hill along there, and that is why he was doing 55 in the 40?

Anonymous said...

Merriam-Webster defines sullen as "1 a: gloomily or resentfully silent or repressed "

If the officer was sullen maybe it had something to do with biting his/her tongue to keep from offending Mr "Astounded".

Years in retail have helped me know that anyone who is "astounded" is usually mean and bitter. It would be interesting to know the officer's perspective on that stop.

It's called PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY....use your brakes!

Anonymous said...

I once did a POP project on a specific road in Lincoln after the neighborhood watch group complained about a stretch of road in their neighborhood becoming a race track. I grabbed my handy dandy radar and low and behold, Who was the first speeder of the day? The neighborhood watch president. I'm still waiting for that complaint to come into your office chief.

Anonymous said...

My brother once got a speeding ticket when I was a kid and he told my dad he was coasting down a hill. 80mph. As a young boy I remember laughing and thinking what an idiot my brother was to give that excuse to my father. Maybe your letter writer needs to do a few tests with his automobile and see just how much gravity plays into speeding.

Anonymous said...

I'm guessing his complaint had more to do with the 'sullen' disposition of the officer. That's why I'm always smiling and happy when I give people tickets. Oh wait, then I get a complaint because they think I'm smug and enjoying myself too much. We just can't win folks.

that's what she said...

"It is the equivalent of entrapment."- But you make it sooooo easy!

"I was ticketed for momentum, basically."- What are you driving? A fully loaded 18 wheeler?

"And by an officer who was sullen."- WAAAAA!

"I have seen this speed trap there for the better part of a year..."- Well then you are just stupid.

"It comes off as abuse of power."- First you get the power...

"It is these sort of actions by policemen that causes us citizens to lose respect for you and bad blood between you and the neighborhood."- But your whining makes relations so much better.

"Thank you for your consideration."- You are quite welcome, now slow down!

Anonymous said...

What is the policy on issuing warnings for speeding as opposed to official citations?

Grundle said...

I would agree with the sentiment that people who speed are asking for trouble. I've been ticketed for speeding before...I'm actually ashamed to admit that it was in the 15-19 MPH-over category. I was mad as hell when I got the ticket, but I wasn't so much mad at the officer, but mad at myself. I had no business going that fast.

What bothers me is when I hear about people getting pulled over for going 2 MPH over the speed limit. Yes, I realize, it is still a violation of the law...but 2 MPH?!! I have to believe that the officer who pulls someone over for that is either having a really bad day, or has nothing better to do.

I also don't think Lincoln is that good about marking their speed limits. A driver can enter a street and drive for blocks with no idea of what the speed limit is. Where this can become a problem is in areas like 48th from Leighton to Adams. Pull on to 48th at Madison and head south, and you likely won't encounter a speed limit sign...not one that I can think of anyways. A person could enter the street there thinking, "Okay, arterial street, 35 MPH"...when in fact the speed limit is 25 MPH.

I know that traffic enforcement is probably one of the least enjoyable jobs for police...but I wish they'd spend less time pulling over speeders, and more time enforcing traffic signals. It seems to me that a violation of a traffic signal poses much more danger than Joe-Schmo driving 5 MPH over the speed limit down Vine street with no other cars within 5 blocks of him.

Anonymous said...

That's an important point about Nebraska's constitution requiring all fines going to the schools, rather than the local gubmint's general fund or anywhere else. One state I've lived in, New York, has no such requirement, and so NYC is attempting to meet a budget shortfall by using traffic-camera "witnessed" citations. I've got no problem with a LEO witnessing a violation and issuing a citation - it's when they introduce a profit-motivated (a piece of every fine levied) private corp into the equation that I begin to question the validity of some of the citations.

Anyway, back to speeding. Lincoln isn't huge, and speeding won't shave but a minute or two from your entire trip. It's not like driving from Lincoln to Salt Lake City, when driving 80mph vs 70 mph might get you there over an hour sooner. Especially in-town, significant speed mismatches cause accidents. If you really need to get to work one or two minutes earlier, then maybe your lazy butt should have rolled out of the rack sooner that morning! If you're in a hurry, it's usually because your procrastination put a cramp on your time. Just listen to something like this while you drive, calm down, and you'll get there when you get there.

Cathy said...

I actually live in the area of the referenced speed trap, and I can personally attest to the fact that no more than 5mph is gained coasting down the hill. So with a little forethought, a speeding ticket is avoidable by A) slowing down at the top of the hill or B) using brakes along the way down.

I personally am in favor of traffic enforcement and would like to see it done more often. What I would like to see even more, though, is officers who can obey basic traffic laws (like signaling lane changes).

Anonymous said...

There is no point to speeding in Lincoln. It's traffic lights are so poorly timed that you will end up losing time gained by speeding, sitting at a stop light.

You are far better off to drive slower than the posted limit and attempt to time the lights.

Anonymous said...

After reading the chief's post this morning I drove on "A" street to and from lunch today. Heading east from 56th Street the speed limit is clearly posted. However, headed west from 70th the only speed limit sign is partially obstructed by a tree, I did not see it the first time I drove past it so I went back and double checked. Perhaps we can get someone to trim that tree so people that don't travel "A" street on a regular basis can see it.

Tom Casady said...

Just so no one thinks the police were running radar at the bottom of a huge hill, here's the view from the radar location: the motorist would be eastbound, coming towards the camera position.

Anonymous said...

What a good post, Chief. I learn exactly like you said, by watching someone else getting a ticket wherever that may be.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the video link Chief,
Jeez, with a hill that has a steep grade like that, if you don't downshift just right you'll lose your enitire load!.... If it's not the slope he or she is complaining about it would be something else. In today's society it's rarely OUR own fault. Lets pass the buck.

Anonymous said...

The only place I've ever known any driver to be cited for +2 mph was on a military base, where the speed limit signs actually read (for example, on Camp Pendleton):

45 MPH
MEANS
45 MPH

If a driver wanted to argue with a USMC Military Policeman, that was their choice 8^D

Anonymous said...

I too slow down heading down Vine between 33rd and 46th during the lunch hour. There are regular speed traps there. The officers are either on the side street or in the cemetary. I have not gotten a ticket but have certainly learned to slow down.

Anonymous said...

It seems like speed limits are often set too low in Lincoln. Obviously this cannot be blamed on the police department, but 40 MPH on both Old Cheney and Pioneers (west of 70th, in both cases) is excessively slow.

If speed limits were raised to more reasonable levels, people might be inclined to follow them, and police would have fewer tickets to write, thus saving valuable resources (both time and money, for starters) for more important issues.

Anonymous said...

I think it's hard to argue if you're guilty. Ironically, I just read the following on Twitter about video patrol(http://twitter.com/tyr):
"Just opened up an envelope with my first traffic ticket since I was 17. Rolling thru stop sign in a state park! watched online video: guilty."

Anonymous said...

Great post Chief.

I remember coming across a form that you can use to report a dangerous driver. I know that an officer can not do much, if anything, without witnessing the speeding or running of a stop sign. What recourse does a person have to report dangerous drivers?

If a driver runs a stop sign and almost crashed into me and my family, I used my horn and to this they proceeded to slam on their brakes in the middle of the road almost causing a wreck a second time.

Thank you and keep up the good work.

Grundle said...

Anon 4:09

I, have rarely heard of it, but while visiting family over the weekend, one of them told me they had been pulled over by an officer, and when they asked why, the officer told them they were 2 MPH over the speed limit. Extremely rare? Yes...but not out of the question. I guess the good thing is it wasn't here in Lincoln.

Anonymous said...

Grundle,

But did they actually receive a citation for +2? It wasn't clear from your comment whether it resulted in a citation or not.

Grundle said...

Why does it matter if they received a citation or not? Is it really worth the officer's time to pull someone over for going 2 MPH in excess of the speed limit? I guess that's the question I would ask...is it worth the time? If one says yes, then the police have to start pulling everyone over for going 2 MPH over...and probably issuing citations for some of them. If one says no, and the police continue to do so, then it makes me question what we are paying them for. I'd feel a lot safer if an officer were to cruise through the neighborhood every once and a while than I would if they use multiple officers to set up a speed trap to catch people going 2 MPH over. Heck, your speedometer could be off by that much.

No, they didn't receive a citation...just a written warning. I think a verbal warning would have sufficed, but I suppose a verbal warning would have been over and done with too quickly.

Anonymous said...

Officers are not pulling people over for two miles and hour over the limit! Get a grip. A lesson that I had learned throughout life was,,,,not to believe everything I hear unless I hear it from Mr. Ed's mouth himself. Your right, officers do have better things to do then pull people over for 2 miles an hour over the limit. On the other hand, if an officer stops you or that someone you know and issues you a warning without telling you your speed, it is probably safe to say you were doing more than two miles an hour over the limit. Life is short; slow down and smell the roses ;)

Anonymous said...

That's right, I wouldn't believe a +2 ticket unless I actually saw said ticket, or the driver said they got it on a military installation. Otherwise, I'd just figure they were BSing. I knew a guy that talked to someone that knew someone that...

Grundle said...

Okay, either you're calling me a liar, or your calling my relative a liar. The officer told my relative he pulled him over for exceeding the speed limit...he asked how much over the limit he was...the officer responded that he was 2 MPH over. This guy has never lied to me before, so I have no reason to believe he is lying now. I'm not even sure what motivation he would have to lie if all he was issued was a warning.

Though I suppose I should not speak in generalities. I think MOST officers have better things to do...but this was a rural area, so maybe this officer really DIDN'T have anything better to do.

Anonymous said...

You know, while I found it hard to believe that non-military law enforcement would pull anyone over and cite them for +2mph (a warning ticket is more believable, and that I'll buy), I have to say that when I was younger, I'd have had a hard time believing that sworn law enforcement in this country would do this kind of crap either. That's something like you'd expect in the third world, but then again, Cook County is sort of third-world in some ways.

Anonymous said...

2 MPH may be the "stated" reason for pulling the car over; I'd bet a pay raise the real reason for the stop was because there was something else the officer wanted to check out.

Way back in the day (mid 60's) the rear license plate light became nicknamed the "dope light"...if the bulb was not illuminated, the officer had sufficient reason to initiate a traffic stop.

Anonymous said...

I am an LPD officer and several years ago I was at detox processing a DWI when a newer officer, who still works here by the way, came in to process his DWI. His probable cause ticket for the stop was for 3 mph over the speed limit. That's it. The guy was drunk so he got his DWI. Don't say it doesn't happen here in Lincoln. This officer is well liked by most because of his traffic numbers. I seen it with my own eyes.

Anonymous said...

To the articulate LPD officer who 'seen' it. What are you REALLY trying to say? That an officer who makes traffic stops & removes DWIs from the road is doing something wrong? I have some trouble believing what you 'seen' since you might have 'saw' it happen. Do the rest of us at LPD a favor. Have someone proof your scrawl before you post it. The proper use of the English language can be your friend.

Anonymous said...

What still amazes me and always will are those that complain about getting the ticket while "coasting" downhill. We know you have an accelerator pedal or you would not have gotten out of your driveway. Did you forget that you can also use your BRAKE pedal when you are "coasting" downhill???

Anonymous said...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aoGkcvyCxnU&eurl=http://forums.officer.com/showthread.php?t=100396&highlight=Pass&feature=player_embedded

cracks me up everytime

Anonymous said...

I was pulled over for speeding in this exact location in November of 2008. The officer who flagged me over was very professional and let me off with a warning. Had I received a ticket..quite honestly I wouldn't have complained a bit. The officer was doing his job and I was breaking the rules. Guess what...I make sure I'm doing the speed limit on this section of "A" street now. In fact...I'm a bit paranoid when driving this section of road now. Kudos to the officer for being curteous and professional!