Allocating Scarce Law Enforcement Resources

On Sunday we drove back to Columbus from Cedar Point.  It was the heart of the Labor Day weekend, traffic was heavy, and the Ohio Highway Patrol was out in force.  We saw more than a dozen OHP cars as we made our way south.  In many instances, the officers were standing outside their cars, aiming their radar guns at oncoming traffic, identifying speeders with a stern finger point, and waving them over to the berm for a ticket.  It was like shooting fish in a barrel.

m-cars-dodge-chargerAs I passed OHP patrol car after patrol car, I found myself wondering:  is this really a good use of our scarce law enforcement dollars?

In America, we’ve got serious crime problems in many of our cities.  The murder rates in places like Chicago are shocking.  Gang violence seems to be on the rise.  In southern Ohio, a heroin epidemic is raging, and overdoses recently spiked as a deadly new form of heroin apparently mixed with an animal tranquilizer hit the streets.

By contrast, the stretch of I-71 between Ashland and the outskirts of Columbus isn’t exactly a hotbed of crime.  There’s speeding, sure . . . but in the grand scheme of things speeding on an interstate highway is a pretty mild offense.  Do we really need to have dozens of well trained, well equipped police officers patrolling a highway and ticketing speeders, or would it be better to have those law enforcement personnel employed to hunt down deadly drug dealers, break up violent gangs, and protect society against murderers?

I’m not saying that American highways should be turned into lawless zones, and we clearly need some form of highway patrol to help stranded motorists, deal with accidents, and catch drunk drivers, reckless lunatics, and road ragers.  But none of the people I saw get ticketed on Sunday fell into that category.  They were just average folks who were moving with the flow of traffic in the passing lane at speeds slightly above the posted limit, and now they’ll find their wallets a few hundred bucks lighter.

Some people contend that modern traffic law enforcement is all about generating those speeding fines and putting the resulting funds into governmental coffers.  I suppose defenders of aggressive traffic speeding enforcement would argue that rules are rules, and a show of force like we saw on Sunday is going to convey the unmistakable message that cops are watching and people need to obey the law.  As somebody who thinks that “broken windows” theory makes sense as a matter of human nature, I can see that . . . but I also think that a more rational allocation of resources should be made.  If you assume that we have a finite amount of law enforcement dollars — and we clearly do — I’d rather see it used to address more egregious and deadly criminal conduct.

Hot Pursuit

Walking home tonight, I passed the Ohio Statehouse . . . and this sweet ride.  Two Ohio Highway Patrol officers were checking it out, so I asked if it was a new prototype.  No, they said — it’s the spoils of taking down a drug dealer.  He was driving this souped-up Camaro and carrying drugs when he was stopped and arrested and the car was seized as part of the process.  The OHP decided to turn it into a patrol car and use it for marketing purposes, and tonight it is going to be the subject of a photo shoot.

In Ohio, at least, patrol cars have gotten progressively cooler over the years and have come a long way from the boxy Sheriff Buford T. Passer rigs with the red light on top.  This beauty takes OHP coolness to new heights.

Just Desserts

Have you ever been driving, noticed one of your fellow motorists driving like a jerk, and wished there was a police officer there at that instant to catch them?

I witnessed that very scenario this morning, and I felt a sense of deep satisfaction.

I was humping along on I-670, heading into downtown during rush hour.  Ahead of me and one lane over an Ohio highway patrol car was part of the normal traffic flow.  Suddenly in the rear-view mirror I saw a guy in an overcharged pick-up truck weaving from lane to lane and speeding.  I figured he would see the patrol car and slow down — but he was so intent on reveling in his testosterone fix that he kept on, stupidly passed the patrol car on the right, and even sped up as he did so.

I think it’s safe to say that, at that point, every other car on the road was hoping that the patrolman would do his duty and catch the jerk.  Many fists undoubtedly were pumped when the officer turned on his lights, lit out after the reckless driver, and pulled him over.  I gave him a wave as I passed by.

Anybody who is so inattentive to their surroundings that they don’t notice a police car as they go speeding by deserves what they get.