We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: We don’t envy law enforcement.
Police officers and sheriff’s deputies have to make decisions that we want no part of, often multiple times a day.
We’re not speaking of rushing into a deadly situation; we know the men and women of law enforcement are brave souls who think of the public’s safety before their own. And while we don’t have the high rate of dangerous incidents that major metropolitan areas do, that doesn’t mean our officers and deputies are any less brave. On the contrary, we think it makes them even more brave because when it does occur, they still unflinchingly do their duty.
No, we’re talking about the plain old traffic stop.
No one likes being pulled over, so right off the bat, the officer or deputy is dealing with a less than cheerful person. The fact that our area’s law enforcement personnel always conduct themselves professionally is a testament to leadership.
So what’s the big deal? If a person was speeding he was speeding and he gets a ticket, right? Well . . . not always. Officers and deputies have leeway on what they write or don’t write. And that’s why we wouldn’t want to be in their shoes.
Why is one person let off with a warning and the other written up? Why does one get cited for the full amount he was over the speed limit and the other just a few miles? Officers and deputies have their systems — perhaps the officer believes the person when he says he didn’t realize it was a 55 mph zone and not a 45 — but it doesn’t make it any easier to accept when one man gets a ticket and his co-worker was allowed to continue on without a citation.
Ah, the solution then is to create zero-tolerance; anyone speeding even one mile over the limit is pulled over and cited. That’s certainly the fairest way to deal with the public, right?
Well, yes it’s fair, but not reasonable. Officers and deputies would constantly be on the side of the road, writing up motorists and wouldn’t be available for other situations, such as breaking up that fight between Uncle Fred and your dad when they’ve both had too many boilermakers following Thanksgiving dinner.
Then there’s the issue of the courts. Our court system is tough to slog through on a good day — it’s like trying to run the 40-meter dash through marshmallow fluff 3 feet high; you can do it, but it’s going to take a while and you’ll definitely need a shower afterward.
Now imagine a court calendar filled with people contesting a ticket for going 37 in a 35-mph zone. By the time you get to see the judge for your serious issue, neither he, nor the clerk nor the bailiff are going to be in any kind of accommodating mood.
We’ve also seen what zero-tolerance has done to our penal system. Three strikes rules mean we have nonviolent offenders (most often involving marijuana possession) serving long stretches and learning how to become true career criminals, which they will have to be since no one will hire them when they get out.
Best of all, zero tolerance means we all pay for the criminal training, far more than if we invested in vocational schools or job training programs in which the offender could have been placed rather than sent to prison . . . that is, if we didn’t have zero tolerance laws on the books.
Now that we’ve made the case against zero tolerance, let’s flip the script and talk about The Straight. You know, that stretch of U.S. Highway 191 between 3-way and the U.S. Highway 70 turnoff. It’s a dangerous road where too many crashes — and deaths — occur each year.
So is the Sheriff’s Office or DPS having zero tolerance for speeding, weaving and illegal passing on the highway a bad thing? Aren’t a traffic stop and a ticket preferable to a crash and being helicoptered to a Tucson hospital?
Yes, that ticket may have saved a life, but it could also cost a friendship. We’re a small community and, chances are, the officer or deputy grew up with the person facing a fine of a few hundred dollars. Class reunions get really uncomfortable after something like that.
The Greenlee County Sheriff’s Office recently released its stats for 2017, which showed more than 3,200 traffic stops, more than 900 citations and more than 100 vehicle impounds. We can guarantee those are not happy people. However, they walked away —literally if the car was towed — alive.
See what we mean when we say law enforcement has tough decisions to make?