To Protect and Serve

My usual commute to work is 10 minutes.  Lucky guy right?  Well, today it was 45.  Was there an accident?!  Maybe someone was pulled over and the rubber necks put me behind?  As I waited, I realized that this was too much of an ordeal for something like that.  

After about 30 minutes in bumper-to-bumper traffic, I saw a clue to the mystery: "Regulatory Area Ahead.  Prepare to stop." Shortly thereafter I reached the epicenter, ground zero of traffic enforcement stupidity.  I saw no less than six cop cars in the HOV lane with their lights flashing, pulling people over for using the HOV lane improperly.  I was absolutely beside myself.  This is a quote from a local news story covering the topic today:
Pennsylvania State Police officers wrote more than 60 tickets, and gave out 14 warnings to drivers who were driving alone in the HOV lanes.
“We were very surprised at the number of violators that we had,” said Trooper Robin Mungo, of the Pennsylvania State Police.
However, the crackdown caused a nine-mile long traffic backup.
Surprised?! Really?!  You were surprised that six police cars with their lights flashing, during morning rush hour, as you enter downtown on one of the largest and busiest thoroughfares in Pittsburgh caused traffic to backup?!  You are either lying, in which case you do not care about the people you are supposed to be protecting and serving, or you are too stupid to operate a motor vehicle, let alone enforce traffic laws for those of us who are not.
“I don’t want to say I apologize; it’s unfortunate that they had to sit in the backups, but in our profession it kind of comes with the territory,” said Trooper Mungo.
Yes, in your profession, sitting around in a car all day may come with the territory, but not in mine.  Officer, you seemed to be a little bit confused about this non apology you have reluctantly not rendered to whom I can only interpret are other police officers.  Here is what you meant:
“I don’t want to say I apologize; it’s unfortunate that they had to sit in the backups, but when people as dull as me are in charge, you should just come to expect this sort of thing,"  Trooper Mungo meant to say.    
It seems relatively likely to me that traffic was backed up the way it was on purpose.  Are people more likely to illegally take the HOV lane if traffic is backed up as far as the eye can see?  I know I would be.  This spells harvest time for the state police.

The hits kept on coming in the interview:
“We weren’t doing it to purposely make anyone late, but we can’t enforce that law any other time,” said Trooper Mungo. 
Yes, it does indeed help to pull people over on the HOV lane when it is open.  I will grant you that one, but is there honestly no other way to enforce these traffic laws?  It seems like a very simple proposition.  So simple that I am going to provide a few suggestions:
  1. Next time, do not worry about having so much staff on duty.  One cop car with its lights on can cause a backup.  Six cars causes a traffic nightmare.  Take the same budget (as if you have to worry about it) and spread the six cars out over six mornings.  You'll probably get just as many tickets.  Do not worry so much if traffic slows down a little in the HOV lane; there are way fewer people over there.  
  2. Occasionally set an officer plainly in view of the HOV lane entrance.   This will prevent all but the very stupid or inattentive solitary drivers from using the HOV lane.  This will, however, have the unfortunate effect of preventing you from actually getting to write any tickets.  
  3. This seems like a no brainer use case for traffic cameras.  Instead of having some lackeys sitting in cars all day trying to enforce the law in real time mucking up the traffic and wasting everyone's time, have some other lackeys doing it at 2X playback speed in an air conditioned office.  If they see a solitary driver, capture the plate and image and send a ticket in the mail.  Delete the remaining video, rinse and repeat.  If you are particularly budget conscious, put the cameras in plain sight but only look at them once or twice a month.  
  4. Finally, just learn to pick your battles.  Is this really that big of a deal?  Are people put at risk by this relatively rare behavior?  Maybe start cracking down on the HOV lane if it starts becoming a problem.  If traffic backs up there for instance, go check it out to make sure everyone there is legit.  
My point here is not just to harangue the officers involved, who I am sure occasionally do good work.  My point is that the way we structure the policing functions in our society does not allow them to make the appropriate cost benefit analysis in any situation like the one I have outlined.  Consider the case in which the police department was liable for the lost time at work for all of those unfortunate souls trapped in traffic for an hour.  I have a suspicion that that would have an effect on their behavior.  

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