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TORONTO, Ont. /Troy Media/ – I was part of a routine traffic stop a while back. My old, old car was missing its front licence plate.
After about an hour with the police officer, I was issued a ticket. He noted in conversation about four times that many owners of specialty or vintage cars don’t install their front plate because they feel it doesn’t look nice. How interesting.
I noted the rust on the bumper and speculated it rusted off. I speculated it got bumped off while parking. I suggested vandals stole my licence plate.
I finally said, I have no reason not to have a front plate.
The fine was $80. I took it to a police station where another officer wondered why the first had bothered to give me a ticket.
Toronto makes up to $100 million in revenue a year from traffic tickets. This is fine with me. In fact, I have done my civic duty and told some officers in my neighbourhood about a new revenue stream for them. In addition to catching people who turn left at the wrong time of day, I suggested that ticketing cars that run the stop signs half a block away would produce as much revenue and result in more safety. Turning left just slows down traffic. But running stop signs is a real hazard to pedestrians. Police are trained to remain calm and not betray emotion, so I didn’t see the look of exuberant gratitude on their faces.
What I’d do is put the cops on the trail of the proverbial really bad guys, and replace them with a camera to take pictures of the left-turners and send it to their homes. This would be just like the photos they take on the ski hill or cruises, except it would cost more and be a mandatory purchase.
I’d put another camera at the stop signs and send out more pictures.
I’d buy a camera for the police officer who told me repeatedly of the preferences of car collectors, instruct him to take a picture of the front end of offending cars, keep one for his collection and send me one with a fine.
My city would be rolling in money.
Why my fixation with cameras?
Many routine traffic stops have resulted in damages, injuries and death. We need a new approach.
The infamous Watts riot of 1965 resulted in $45 million to $100 million in damages – in 1965 dollars. There were also 32 deaths and 874 injuries. The riot started when Los Angeles police pulled over a person suspected of driving drunk. A struggle ensued. Crowds formed and the rest is history.
On July 23, 1967, Detroit police raided an unlicensed bar. Inside were 82 black people celebrating the return of two soldiers from Vietnam. Police decided to arrest everyone. Somebody threw a bottle at a police officer. Confrontations resulted in one of the most destructive riots in U.S. history, lasting five days. Police didn’t have the staff to control the evolving riot because it was a Sunday. This is the event that became Black Day in July, the song by Gordon Lightfoot, and MC5’s Motor City is Burning from their 1969 proto-punk album Kick Out the Jams.
In the end, 16 people were killed and 493 wounded, including members of the 82nd Airborne, 101st Airborne, the Michigan Army National Guard, a Detroit police officer and two members of the fire department. Damage was anywhere from $40 million to $80 million.
I bet the thought has crossed the minds of some of the victims’ family members about whether 82 people celebrating the return of soldiers from Vietnam was so grievous an infraction that it required arresting everyone and this kind of escalation.
There must be other revenue sources, and other ways to collect that revenue, that are safer and more efficient.
Troy Media columnist Dr. Allan Bonner has consulted on some of the major planning and public policy issues of our time on five continents over 25 years. He is the author of Safer Cities. Allan is included in Troy Media’s Unlimited Access subscription plan.
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