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With Speed Traps and Red-Light Cameras, Sometimes Public Perception Matters

It takes years to build a reputation for quality law enforcement. So why blow it on a speed trap? In this line of work, as with any, public perception does count.

When you feel the need to begin a column with the caveat, “I’ve been a staunch defender of law enforcement for the last six years,” you know what comes next. Though an Elgin Courier- News reader did ask, “Does the Police Department mail you a check every week or do you have to pick it up in person?” there’s a real danger in that somewhat disingenuous opening statement.  

Does your previous support for someone entitle you to subsequently hold their feet to the fire?

The truth is, I really do have a sense of the difficulties involved in being a police officer. The considerable damned-if-you-do-or don’t aspect of the job makes it patently unreasonable to expect any officer will always be able to walk that razor’s edge.

That said, I will reissue my “no one put a gun to anyone’s head” refrain and remind folks that if you choose a law-enforcement career, then you also choose whatever baggage comes along with it. It’s in that regard that police officers often can be their own worst enemies.

Let me give you an example. My 8:15 a.m. Easter Sunday dog walk took me just east of ’s Peck and Keslinger Roads campus. As you might imagine, it was a quiet morning, but as I finished my loop, I noticed a GPD squad car ensconced behind the east-side brick wall of the Keslinger Road electrical substation.

Despite my fear of imploding churches, I infrequently attend FBCG west services, and the fact that some folks think it’s appropriate to waltz in 20 minutes late always astounds me. So if our officer's intent was to nab tardy congregants, I’d be the first one to shake his or her hand.

But I’m sure you’ve leapt to the same conclusion I have. And since we’re talking disingenuous here, let’s discuss this concealed squad car’s timing and location.

On most days, the congestion and claustrophobic feel of Keslinger between Peck and Randall Roads makes it virtually impossible to go too fast. It’s not a particularly dangerous stretch of highway. Ah! But at 8:15 on a Sunday morning, you actually have a shot at acceleration. Add the eastbound downhill approach and a 45 to 40 mph speed limit downshift, and you have yourself a reasonable speed trap.

When you add the officer was sitting within a hundred yards of a well-attended church on Easter, I couldn’t help but think, really? Is catching one or two Sunday speeders worth the collateral damage inflicted on your department’s reputation?

To be clear, I haven’t been subjected to a suburban moving violation in decades, and I too despise folks who say, "Don’t you have something better to do?” or, “I guess you gotta make your monthly quota.” But, as my mother used to say, “sometimes you bring these things upon yourself.”

It’s the same scenario with our red-light cameras that have nothing to do with traffic safety and everything to do with raising revenue. Though Geneva is better with its limited application of these heinous devices, most ticketed drivers won’t make that distinction.

Thankfully, the GPD doesn’t engage in the latest  police force revenue raising tactic, “administrative” towing fees. For example, the city of Elgin will hit you with a $500 fee on top of the $175 tow if you’re stopped for driving without a license, driving with a suspended or revoked license, a DUI,  or a loud sound system.

And they’ll slap you with that half-a-grand penalty even if there’s another licensed driver in the vehicle! We’ve, indeed, come to the point where you might want to ask, “Who’s going to protect us from the police?” Kane County Sheriff Pat Perez told me, “We looked at that and felt it was kind of excessive.”

The good news is, if you are stopped by the Geneva Police, you stand an 84 percent chance of walking away with a warning. No other suburban police force can boast of being that reasonable. But unless I write about it, or you get stopped by the GPD, few people understand that Geneva police officers are far more concerned with education than they are with revenue.

While I would discourage anyone—especially police officers—from spending too much time worrying about what other people are thinking, unless you’re Lady Gaga, you might not want to go out of your way to provide ammunition either.

Therefore! May I humbly suggest that Geneva dispense with its red-light cameras and that our police officers briefly consider public perception before embarking upon a speed-enforcement course of action—aka speed traps. Doing away with those two practices might incur some short-term costs, but it would pay off in far-greater public relations dividends down the road.

robert poznanski April 27, 2011 at 03:22 PM
If one is a member of a community who drives a reasonable amount of times to and fro, you will be aware of places where the patrol officers sit and, well, patrol! That sight is one that has pretty much been a sight of a patrol car,for a long time, and again, if one is aware of ones surroundings,as one should be, you would know to either slow down, or face the "music"! Speeders are more than lawbreakers,they are traffic hazards!The reason we have traffic laws is to provide guide lines for people who have no sense of safe behavior with a motor vehicle , and to prevent the total breakdown of the traffic system. So you see, it is more than being a disruption of one's day, and more a reminder that" you are not following safe driving practices", when you are pulled over! To blame a cop for "doing the job he was hired to do", that is, apprehend those who disobey the laws, is typical of the mindset, in today's culture, of not assuming responsibility for ones actions! I would hope that, as a member of the press, that you would not subscribe to such notions! There are two sides in every question, and, the legal system is set up so that you may dispute your charges, if you so desire! Please,even if after all arguments to the contrary are not resolved, drive safely!! The police have seen the results of what happens when you don't !!!!
Rick Anderson April 27, 2011 at 06:32 PM
Question. If a police officer witnesses a car going through a red light camera intersection, does the officer still pull them over and write a ticket or do they leave that alone and let the picture process handle it?
Jeff Ward April 27, 2011 at 07:26 PM
Robert, I generally agree with you, but with the exception of a Sunday morning you can't even make it up to the speed limit on that section of Keslinger. The point of speed enforcement is to render a dangerous stretch of highway safer, not to make revenue. There has to be a balance. Jeff

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