At the start of the year, the city of Chicago announced that it would be changing rules pertaining to traffic enforcement as part of Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s updated 2021 budget package. But the one that was causing the most concern among motorists was a provision to have speed cameras issue tickets to anybody traveling 6 miles an hour over the posted limit, rather than the previous cutoff of 10 MPH. While just a singular aspect of the city’s plan to resolve a $1.2-billion deficit, it turned out to be one of the most controversial items and appears to have resulted in a tenfold increase in fines.
According to local affiliate CBS Chicago, data from a public records request indicated that during the 36-day period before and after the change took effect on March 1st, citywide ticketing went up from 35,784 citations in the weeks before to a massive 398,233 in the proceeding weeks.
As you’re undoubtedly aware, there has been a lot of pressure to de-fund the police this year following the highly publicized death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The city became the epicenter of violent and peaceful protests demanding police departments be stripped of funding that has since spread across the rest of the United States. Some cities, including Minneapolis, have already agreed to cut their budgets or abolish departments entirely.
While most of the ramifications of these decisions would be off-topic for this particular forum, a study came out this week examining how on-road policing has been impacted. Unsurprisingly, the number of traffic stops in Minneapolis has declined immensely. Since May 25th, Bloomberg’s CityLab estimated the department had made 80 percent fewer stops each week.
With Congress having politicized their nearly identical bills on police reform into another deadlock, many local governments have decided to pick up the slack by embracing activists seeking to dismantle law enforcement. Most of these don’t concern us as automotive enthusiasts and offer few perks or comfort to your average citizen. Then the City of Berkeley floated an idea that actually sounded halfway decent.
Rather than abolishing the police entirely, the famously progressive Californian town suggested ending routine traffic enforcement. However, you may want to hold off on making any illegal modifications to your car and postpone any burnout competitions you were planning on hosting. The proposed arrangement doesn’t officially endorse lawless roadways, though they may still be possible during the transitional period.
India is famous for having some of the most lawless roadways on the planet. While the primary culprit is likely the country’s lax licensing requirements — showing a basic understanding of a vehicle’s controls and the ability to park is about all it takes — the bar has been set similarly low for what’s deemed acceptable outside the classroom. It’s not uncommon to see occupancy limits surpassed, often with excess passengers riding on the outside of a vehicle. Roads and automobiles are also often poorly maintained, encouraging accidents that jam up traffic.
Honking is a problem too, with India’s Central Pollution Control Board banning the practice in several cities for 2017. The group worked off data from 2011 that alleged Delhi’s busiest areas averaged 100-108 decibels of ambient background sound (with some spots going up to 125db). That’s enough to cause physical harm to someone subjected to the noise for just 15 minutes — and most of the sound is believed to stem from persistent honking.
Policing a population is expensive. Law enforcement departments around the globe have long sought a way to tamp down costs or, more often, find better forms of supplemental revenue. Unfortunately, sending the SWAT team on a raid or hiring additional officers to patrol the highway for speeders costs money. But the price of surveillance technology continues to go down, encouraging agencies to tap into their rather robust capabilities — potentially at our expense.
China, the world leader in mass government surveillance, already has the ability to use its vast network of cameras to take over all manner of on-the-street policing. Electronic eyes are everywhere, often networked to facial recognition or plate identification technologies that enable authorities to mail you a ticket for speeding, jaywalking, or whatever else the patrolman failed to see you do in person. While some of the penalties stop at being publicly shamed via a national database or having your social credit score dropped (potentially barring you from some goods and services), these systems have also increased the number of finable offenses that make departments money.
While similar systems have been available in the United States, it seems the country’s penchant for liberty has drastically slowed their implementation. Yet it’s still happening, and there’s reason to suggest items like license plate readers and facial recognition software will soon become standard equipment for many (if not most) North American police departments.
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