When Police Set Policy: The Jaywalking Edition

By way of Commandante Atrios, we come across this LA Times article about zealous jaywalking enforcement in the City of Angels (boldface mine):

Hundreds of readers responded to my column about 22-year-old Glendale Community College student-athlete Eduardo Lopez, who was on his way to school when he got smacked with a $197 ticket for entering a crosswalk after the flashing countdown had begun. And roughly nine out of 10 of those readers criticized the ticket-writing spree, blasted the exorbitant fees or offered to pay all or part of Eduardo’s ticket.

This saga began with an April 24 story by Times reporter Catherine Saillant, who saw Eduardo and seven others get ticketed by an LAPD motorcycle officer near the 7th Street Metro station over a two-hour period. Downtown Los Angeles has been transformed into an urban village of pedestrians, and police have been picking them off one by one, writing tickets for entering a crosswalk after the red light flashes and the countdown begins.

I didn’t know that was illegal. Neither did Eduardo Lopez, and neither did Councilman Mike Bonin.

“No I didn’t, and I’m sure I have been a serial offender,” Bonin said. Last week, he and Councilman Jose Huizar asked for a report on whether such a crackdown makes pedestrians any safer, and whether motorists — rather than pedestrians — are more responsible for accidents.

We’ll ignore the problems with believing pedestrian safety is largely a behavioral, not structural issue. As you might imagine, most of the ire is focused on the size of the fine. One state senator gets hyperbolic and asks, “This is kind of government run amok, right?”, while the police department along with the occasional nattering nabob of ninniness argues this is about safety (an aside: there’s footage indicating the cops, while going after Lopez, ignored a white guy in a business suit doing the exact same thing at the same time. But it’s not about race or class because nothing is ever about those things).

Let’s also ignore how a $25 fine turns into a $197 fine–and how there are incentives for the courts to do this.

What I do not understand is who exactly decided this would be policy. Essentially, the LAPD is making a policy decision: they are attempting to retard the shift towards walking. It does have an effect–if Boston, D.C., or New York police officers ever decided to enforce a similar policy, that would probably be the one thing that could get every single elected official voted out of office. Cities require walking.

Yet the LAPD has decided that Los Angeles doesn’t. Is this a Ferguson-style attempt to raise revenue? Is this an attempt to fill monthly quotas (if they truly exist)? Probably not. Instead, it seems like the Police Department has decided, unilaterally, to try to limit pedestrian fatalities–a good thing to do. However, they clearly didn’t ask any elected officials, as shown by Councilmen Bonin’s and Huizar’s reactions.

While jaywalking obviously isn’t an issue of life and death, this is one example of how a police department, when there is no oversight, can de facto enact urban planning policy; this is all the more disturbing when most police officers and officials are not residents of the communities in which they are making these policies.

Elected officials, not to mention citizens, might want to do something about that.

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2 Responses to When Police Set Policy: The Jaywalking Edition

  1. harrync says:

    I grew up in LA and vicinity – 1940’s to 1960’s. Nice sunny, 70 degree January day, laid-back lifestyle – why not wait for the green light. Virtually no one jay-walked. I have also lived in the SF bay area, Seattle, Detroit and Boston; everyone jay-walked. Not many 70 degree January days those places. I suspect LA is not as laid-back as in my day; thus the jay-walk epidemic.

  2. Nat says:

    Well, the intertubes ate my brilliant post a while ago, I should always remember the value of ctrl A ctrl C. Anyway, this is a fund raiser. Here in Austin my kid was hit with a class c misdemeanor and a $200 fine for jaywalking. The jurisdiction was the Community Court that exists solely to incarcerate the homeless. They cannot pay for their jaywalking sins against the community, so those with means unfortunate enough to get caught get to cough up the $200 in a kangaroo court. Which is then used to get the homeless off the streets and into the slammer for a month or so. Is this a great city or what?

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