Monday, October 24, 2005

Giving Credit Where It's Due, Updated

There is no doubt that Chief Ronal Serpas is a lightning rod. As a change agent in the Metro Police Department, he has attracted a lot of controversy. And there is some valid criticism of his methods.

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.
Serpas, like any human being, deserves criticism as well as credit. But when I hear all the kicking and screaming about traffic stops, I am reminded that Sammy Davis, Jr. more effectively sang my response: "Don't do the crime if you can't do the time ... uh, no, no, no. Don't do it." That applies to speeders as well as robbers. Traffic violators who complain about the consequences of violating traffic laws and excuse themselves by asking the police to go chase down "real criminals" don't seem willing to accept personal responsibility for their own behavior.

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.


  1. I think it's quite funny to see the king of bellyaching complaining about other people "bellyaching."

    By the're implying that those who are complaining must have received a ticket so that's why they are complaining. No tickets here. At this point your entire argument ends up falling apart because it's apparently based on that premise. All because of an assumption.

    I also stated that the police never showed up when CreativeLiberty had his car broken into. How can you work with the police when they don't show up?

    Look, robberies and traffic deaths are up around the city. Serpas promised results based on lowering crime via traffic stops. That hasn't happened.

    The only thing that your post does is reveal your childishness via name-calling and false, assumption-based assertions.

  2. hahahah! Ok...that's a good one. I'll give you that. :)

    (re: your update)

  3. It bears repeating: 30,000 arrests of criminal suspects at Serpas's traffic stops. Hold him accountable for the increase in robberies in the city if you like, but you cannot say that traffic stops have not produced results in taking criminals off the streets.

    30,000 is a huge number, Blake, and it doesn't allow you to link stops with the increase in robberies. I'd trade a speeding ticket or two for the security knowing that 30,000 less criminal suspects were barred from roaming the streets. Your only recourse is to challenge the numbers. If you can show with real evidence that 30,000 arrests actually were not made during the stops, then you have a case against Serpas. But until then, Serpas can legitimately claim that arresting those 30,000 criminals justified the traffic stops.

  4. I'd rather see a breakdown of what that 30,000 is comprised of. Things come into play such as what they were booked on, how many were released immediately, how many were charged with serious crimes, how many were not charged, etc.

    He didn't offer a copy of that Powerpoint or raw statistics did he?

  5. Nope. But by all means pursue it. He meets every Friday with his precinct captains at the North Precinct Station to go over the stats, and he openly welcomed the public to attend these meetings during his speech on Saturday.

    Our Precinct Officers have been very detailed in our association meetings, providing us with breakdowns of arrests and traffic stops and giving us details when traffic stops became arrests. Nobody on our end has felt a need to question the officers, so I've got no reason to question the general stats or to wonder if there is a link between traffic stops and increased robbery.