This is a photograph taken recently at the Cadillac Place building, on West Grand Blvd just west of Woodward in Detroit. It used to be called the General Motors Building before GM decamped to the RenCen. To make sure that much office space (when it was built, the GM Bldg was the second largest in the world) wouldn’t go vacant in Detroit’s economically viable midtown area, the State of Michigan moved many of its Detroit area office workers into the renamed building. Some of those state employees work for the Michigan State Police, which has offices for their Detroit detachment on the Milwaukee Ave. side of the building. It’s not a full scale police post, there’s no public lobby, but it’s where state police hang out in Detroit when they aren’t busy protecting and serving the public, not to mention rescuing injured peregrine falcons.
Notice the no-standing area? Notice the building’s fire pipes immediately behind that no-standing area? Notice the Michigan State Police cruiser #2044 parked directly in front of those fire pipes, blocking access in the event of a fire? Notice the many other Michigan State Police cars parked in the area marked no-standing right where fire trucks would need to park for firefighters to have access to those fire pipes? Notice, too, the many angled, off-street parking spaces that are reserved solely for police cars, parking spaces that sit empty only a few feet from the no-standing zone?
I didn’t go to the Cadillac Place building just to rattle some entitled cops’ chains, I was working on a story about Detroit Electric’s offices in the nearby Fisher Building. However, I had my camera case with me and when I saw the wholesale dangerous violation of parking laws under cover of authority, I stopped to shoot a few pics. Offhand there were about 10 police cars illegally parked on both sides of Milwaukee. On the south side of the street a Michigan State Police Ford Explorer was not just illegally parked in a no-standing zone, it was also parked close to two different fire hydrants, at least one of them closer than the minimum 15 foot distance required by state law. Back over on the other side of the street, by the former GM Bldg, while I was taking the photos two motorcycle cops showed up for what must have been some kind of meeting but they had to park legally in those angled spots. All the best parking spaces, the ones in the no-standing zone, were apparently already taken.
A Ford Crown Vic in MSP blue that arrived even after the motorcyles also parked in the angled parking but for some reason he left his car running. I’m sure that someone will say something about seconds counting and if I don’t like cops I should try calling a hippy the next time my kid is dying, but in an age when cars have stop-start systems that seamlessly and instantly fire up an engine after a stop light do you really believe that excuse? My guess is the warm, humid weather Detroit experienced today and the car’s air conditioning had something to do with leaving it running.
He wasn’t the only duly sworn officer of the law who left his steel steed running as he left it unattended. I might not have noticed the others because of all the urban noise, but I happened to see a pedestrian who was crouching down to bend an ear to the sounds coming from one of the police cars. I’m not the only person who notices these things. At least three of the cars were left running. I know the boys and girls in blue always have an excuse, and I’m sure they want to get into a cool car after their meeting is over, but according to the weatherman on my car radio, though it was warm it was a not unbearable 81 degrees in Detroit at the time. At ~$3.60 a gallon for gasoline, can the taxpayers afford to keep cop cars air conditioned even when there aren’t even cops in them? Another reason cops give for leaving their cars idling at the side of the road is all of the electronic cop toys they have in their cruisers. Apparently all that stuff needs to be powered up even when the cop isn’t there to use them.
But I digress. This is about police breaking the law, not just the taxpayers’ piggybanks.
Which question has a lower number for an answer, how many times do you see police casually breaking traffic and parking laws, or how many times do you see police bothering to obey traffic and parking laws?
Now if you ask police here in Michigan, and I have asked, just when the law allows them to break traffic or parking laws, you will get answers ranging from “It depends” to “I can do it whenever I want to”. I’ve never had one tell me what the law actually was. Asking them if you’d get a ticket for parking like they are parked, and I have asked, will get you, “Well, I won’t get one.” All of those quotation marks are there for a reason, those are verbatim responses I’ve gotten from cops. Citing the the relevant state law, and I have done so, will get you a, “Have a nice day,” in that oh-so-respectful tone police use when they want to express disdain towards the people for whom they ultimately work.
No matter what their response is, it’s never to cite an actual law that exempts them. Funny how they always seem to know what law to cite, when it’s you getting the citation. Michigan State Police isn’t the only area police agency whose officers illegally park. If you can believe it, the suburban Huntington Woods police park in the middle of a five lane road, in the left turn lane, yep, right there in the middle of the street, because drivers making an illegal right turn on red at a nearby intersection can’t see them there until they’ve committed to making the turn. The cops could sit in a nearby parking lot, but that would put them in the line of sight of the drivers and the object of all of this is generating revenue by issuing tickets. Can’t have people not making that illegal right turn on red, can we?
Not long ago, in Lathrup Village I noticed a small traffic jam up ahead on a residential street that crosses a mile long stretch of 25 mph road that’s partly residential (hence the low speed limit). I saw a police car up ahead so I assumed the officer had someone pulled over. Which might have explained why said officer was forcing traffic to go around him, traveling in the wrong lane, against traffic. However, he didn’t have anyone pulled over. He was doing radar surveillance of drivers on the busy cross street, while parked about 18″ from the side of the road (generally, more than 12″ will get you a parking ticket around here), about 15 feet from a stop sign and crosswalk (Michigan law prohibits parking within 30 feet of a stop sign, or within 20 feet of a crosswalk).
Now remember, all of these traffic and parking laws are there, supposedly, to make things safer for drivers. In the section of the law that says you can’t park in the middle of the roadway, like those Huntington Woods cops do, it doesn’t give the reason why you and I can’t do it as “not a cop”. Safety, though, and apparently the law too, takes a back seat to revenue.
The relevant law here in Michigan is Michigan Compiled Laws 257.603. Chapter 257 of Act 300 of 1949 is Michigan’s overall motor vehicle code. I’m not a lawyer but I asked my state senator’s office about it and they asked Michigan’s Legislative Research Division to look into it. The folks whose job it is to accurately inform the state’s lawmakers say that’s the only law that exempts police concerning traffic and parking laws. Section 603 of that chapter regulates under what conditions government owned vehicles can violate sections of the motor vehicle code. You can read the relevant sections of the law below. Paragraph 1 identifies which government vehicles can break traffic laws, pretty much any government owned vehicle from the local dogcatcher to the presidential limousine. Paragraph 3 lists what laws they can break, pretty much any traffic or parking regulations. Paragraph 2, though, which says when they can do it, is much more specific, and restricts such exemptions to when the vehicle is going to an emergency or is involved in the pursuit or apprehension of an actual criminal or criminal suspect.
Did you happen to notice anything in there about routine traffic surveillance or having a meeting with your boss and co-workers? Speaking of such meetings, my favorite part of MCL 257.603 is the part about being exempt from traffic laws when going to “but not while returning from an emergency call” (emphasis added). That ‘but not from’ part tells us that the legislators in Lansing who wrote that passage had an inkling the law enforcement officers and other emergency workers just might cheat a little. Just because the chief calls you back to the shop for a talk doesn’t make it an emergency, so you can’t speed back, or park illegally when you get there. The fact that you’re a cop isn’t going to move your cruiser out of the way of a firetruck as your fellow state workers burn to death because of where you parked your car.
The story does have a bit of a bittersweet ending. Concerning those cops parking in the middle of the road, I sent emails to both city managers, both directors of public safety and even had a fruitless phone conversation with the mayor of my own city, which adjoins Huntington Woods, about why our police department won’t ticket cars that are dangerously and illegally parked in the middle of the road. Getting no satisfaction, I went to a city council meeting and simply read them the state law, asking them if it exempted routine traffic surveillance. Four days later the mayor called to tell me that a majority of the city council and city manager agree with my reading of the law. That was sweet, particularly since she thinks I’m crazy and knows that I’ll never vote for her, so I’m sure she didn’t want to make that call. I figure their decision had something to do with possible liability if someone plows into that cop car parked in the middle of the road and the fact that since some crazy guy read the law to them in public, on public access television and all that, and if the city gets sued they can’t say they didn’t know.
The bitter part was on my window when I got back from the Fisher Building. The same Detroit parking enforcement folks who have refused to ticket the cops and state attorneys endangering people in the Cadillac Place building, and yes, I’ve asked them to do so, demonstrate a bit more alacrity in enforcing parking laws when it comes to regular folks.
I have a call in to the Michigan State Police public affairs department asking them to comment about their troopers illegally parking in violation of MCL 257.603. I was contacted, asked if I was on deadline and was told that I would hear from them with a response. When I get that response, we’ll publish it.
MICHIGAN VEHICLE CODE (EXCERPT)257.603 Applicability of chapter to government vehicles; exemption of authorized emergency vehicles; conditions; exemption of police vehicles not sounding audible signal; exemption of persons, vehicles, and equipment working on surface of highway.
Act 300 of 1949
(1) The provisions of this chapter applicable to the drivers of vehicles upon the highway apply to the drivers of all vehicles owned or operated by the United States, this state, or a county, city, township, village, district, or any other political subdivision of the state, subject to the specific exceptions set forth in this chapter with reference to authorized emergency vehicles.
(2) The driver of an authorized emergency vehicle when responding to an emergency call, but not while returning from an emergency call, or when pursuing or apprehending a person who has violated or is violating the law or is charged with or suspected of violating the law may exercise the privileges set forth in this section, subject to the conditions of this section.
(3) The driver of an authorized emergency vehicle may do any of the following:
(a) Park or stand, irrespective of this act.
(b) Proceed past a red or stop signal or stop sign, but only after slowing down as may be necessary for safe operation.
(c) Exceed the prima facie speed limits so long as he or she does not endanger life or property.
(d) Disregard regulations governing direction of movement or turning in a specified direction.
Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can dig deeper at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS