The entire crowd attending Chief Serpas's keynote at the Mayor's Conference on Saturday came away unscathed. No lightning struck. In fact, the presentation was a bit dry. That was perhaps due to the possibility that Chief Serpas was upstaged by Mayor Purcell's sermon-like depth-charge announcement not to seek a third term. Or is could have been as fellow blogger John H. whispered to me during Serpas' talk: showing multiple PowerPoint slides of multi-celled tables with a tidal wave of data instead of simple bullets is not crowd-friendly.
But I did take two significant stats away from the presentation that should mitigate a lot of the recent hooey we hear lately from those who whine about being more prone now to speeding tickets because of Serpas's aggressive traffic policies. According to the Chief, 22% (50,000) of all the traffic stops made under Serpas lead to a warning, not a citation. In a city where I've heard people complain about how bad "Tennessee drivers" are, that seems relatively generous leeway. (Of course, that stat doesn't tell us how many of those warnings issued occurred as the result of attractive women drivers who claim--like one of my neighbors has--"to talk their way out" of a ticket by being flirtatious with cops).
But the second stat was even more impressive to me: 13% (30,000) of all traffic stops made during his tenure have lead to arrests for more significant crimes committed. Now, the ends don't justify means when the means are too unbearable or unfair. But pulling speeders and other minor traffic violators over as a means of making more significant arrests is not an undue burden; especially, for those of us who live in the city and expect our patrol officers to make routine traffic stops to discourage the riff-raff, who usually come from outside the neighborhoods.
One of my otherwise lawful neighbors was pulled over in Salemtown recently he claims because of his rumbling muscle car, but having left his license at home, he was given a citation. However, the Central Precinct reports that several arrests have been made in Salemtown during such routine traffic stops. It is unfortunate when otherwise good people get cited for traffic violations, but if you drive a car you must accept the risks that come with it; and those risks increase when you violate even the most trivial traffic laws. For some to argue that we should forestall the possibility of nabbing and incarcerating suspects with serious criminal histories just so that minor violators can enjoy their entitlements to minor violations is just plain silly.
My neighbor accepted his ticket gracefully; there are others who act like spoiled brats. I have very little sympathy for those who grouse and beef about police at traffic stops (disclaimer in light of Blake Wylie's comment below: while Blake has bellyached about traffic stops in the past, he himself has never received a traffic citation and should not be confused with those who have received or will receive past or future traffic citations). Here's why my sympathies fail:
- Whiners need to be cautious about their bellyaching lest they come across as anti-police-protection.
- If the "Debby Downers" are so concerned about robberies, then they need to take action and work with the police when suspicious activity is occurring. Those of us who actually live in the city to which weekend revellers come to party understand that crime can be very real on these streets. We also understand that we have a Police Chief who places a premium on stats. So, what do we do? We watch our neighborhoods and report anything suspicious that we see. Increasing the number of our reports increases patrols. If we don't see increased patrols, we work with our precinct officers to get more. If you think certain areas you patronize need more patrols, get off your patioed ass and out from behind your top-shelf Marguerita and do something about it.
- Finally, the bitchers need to realize, as Chief Serpas reported on Saturday, that robberies are trending up in cities across the country. That doesn't excuse our local police from protecting us, but I would bet the national trend is not the result of every other police chief having an aggressive traffic stop policy.
10/24/2005, Noon Update: I have added a qualification about Blake Wylie's "grousing and beefing" in light of his comment below. But that disclaimer does not change the validity of my argument about those who complain about traffic stops, whether the complainers actually received tickets or not. Those who complain but don't receive traffic tickets should not minimize the traffic violations of others and should not impugn traffic stops by crying for less stops and more patrols while the rest of us are actually doing things to increase patrols.