Police should join drivers in ‘accountability’

Published 12:00 am Sunday, February 22, 2009

Anyone seeking an apology from Vicksburg Police Chief Tommy Moffett about a surge in his department’s citations will be disappointed. The chief is pretty clear. “I don’t apologize for my officers doing their jobs, because when I came here that’s not what they were doing,” Moffett said in a story reported last week. He added that far fewer officers are now doing far more police work than when he was hired from Biloxi in October 2001.

Two beefs have merit, however.

• The posted speed limits should bear a rational relationship to the level of caution required.

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• Officers should be less sneaky and stop writing speeding citations in city locations such as at the bottom of hills where drivers, if not braking, will coast above the posted limit.

In response to a request for a tally, Vicksburg police provided numbers showing 9,558 citations issued in 2008, an increase of 47 percent over 2007 and an average of 26 a day.

To bolster his statement that the officers are doing their jobs, Moffett pointed out municipal traffic fatalities declined as ticket-writing increased. From six fatalities in 2006 when 4,619 citations were issued, there was a drop to four fatalities in 2007 when 6,459 citations were issued and to three fatalities last year.

That might have some validity if it were shown that citable offenses, such as speed, were a factor in the fatal wrecks, or if the wrecks occurred at places where officers now concentrate their efforts.

A more credible explanation, which Moffett also mentioned, is that there are now more citable offenses — including failure to wear a seat belt.

The VPD’s emphasis on safety is to be commended.

The praise, however, would have more merit after a review of all posted limits to see if they bear any relationship to factors bearing on what would constitute a prudent maximum. (We’ve heard of people getting tickets for going 15 mph in a 10 mph zone near a school on a Sunday morning.) And there would be less public reluctance if officers set up in places where speed has been known to create a danger of wrecks, fatal and nonfatal. (Indiana Avenue, on the approach to Porters Chapel where a bend provides a perfect hiding place for a radar gun, does not fit this description.)

Most citizens want to obey the law and willingly confess and pay up for transgressions. Resentment, however, is sure to follow when drivers are surprised in ambush-friendly locations or ticketed for traveling at objectively reasonable speeds.