Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Rules of the Road

An early episode of the Comedy Central mockumentary series Reno 911! depicted its inept law enforcement crew competing in a twisted scavenger hunt, where points were awarded for arresting unusual criminals: e.g., 10 points would be awarded for a perp who measured more than 6’5” in height; another 5 points for an arrestee with an animal tattoo; and 15 points to the officer who nabbed the most attractive prostitute by night’s end. But what seemed like a far-fetched and morbidly funny hypothetical scenario in 2003 became sadly real yesterday, when the L.A. Times published an internal police memo which outlined a "baseball game" for traffic violations.

The Bell (CA) Police Department Baseball Game (annotated memo) created a progressive scoring system for parking and moving violations, from "singles" (recovering a stolen vehicle, writing 6 parking tickets), to "doubles" (misdemeanor arrests, citations for illegal parking in a handicapped spot), to "triples" (a 30-day impound, an arrest with no bail), to the "home run" of making a felony arrest based on an officer’s observation. A note at the bottom of the memo stated that the game was operated "on the honor system" with non-performers "sent to minor league rehab stint." The document surfaced during a U.S. Justice Department investigation of civil rights violations in Bell due to the local police department’s “aggressive towing of cars.” As the L.A. Times explained:
Part of the investigation focuses on claims by some officers that the department had quotas for issuing tickets and impounding cars, which they said was done to raise revenue for the city. Some officers said they were reprimanded when they did not meet goals.
Police officers interviewed by the Times suggested that the "baseball game" was actually a joke circulated by a few individual officers, and that supervisors "squashed" the game once the memo was discovered. But the document doesn’t do much to help Bell’s reputation as a center of public corruption; the city rose to national prominence last summer with the arrest of eight city officials who appropriated municipal funds for personal loans, and also drew disproportionately large salaries for the relatively low-income city (city manager Robert Rizzo was paid nearly $800,000 a year – nearly 3 times the salary of the manager of Santa Monica, which in turn is nearly 3 times the size of Bell). For more information, see the L.A. Times' complete coverage of the Bell city scandals.

What does all of this mean for the average Goodson Blogson reader? Well, it is perhaps most useful as a reminder to brush up on your local vehicle and traffic laws. While your local police department is probably (hopefully!) not engaged in scavenger hunt arrest sprees or “fantasy baseball” ticket-writing games, it’s easy to earn a ticket without realizing it. Pop quiz for North Carolina readers: do you know how far you should park from an intersection? Or when you must yield the right-of-way? Wherever you live, your state legislature has likely placed a copy of its code online; access state statutes through the National Conference of State Legislatures’ State Legislative Websites Directory.

If the damage is already done, and you’re currently fighting a traffic ticket, you may want to check out Duke’s copy of the Nolo Press e-book Beat Your Ticket: Go to Court & Win (5th ed. 2007). An earlier 2005 edition of this title is also available in print at the Goodson Law Library, at the call number Reference Collection KF2231.Z9 B76 2005.

Drive safely!