July 11th, 2010
09:00 AM ET

Letter to the President #538: 'Highway robbery?'

Tom Foreman | BIO
AC360° Correspondent

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://www.cnn.com/video/crime/2010/06/03/summers.cops.estimate.speeding.wkyc.640×360.jpg caption="The more we make the enforcement of laws and regulations into a cash making proposition, the further we stray from the true purpose of government" width=300 height=169]

Reporter's Note: I don’t know if President Obama has ever had a speeding ticket. I assume so. Just as I assume that he’d be more likely to get one these days in all sorts of American cities where the streets seem as if they are being patrolled with unusual diligence…the subject of my latest letter.

Dear Mr. President,

I had an idea the other day which has nothing to do with you, but it does have something to do with the idea of good government. Lately I’ve noticed a lot more police activity in and around D.C. I don’t mean big, SWAT teams storming the Quicky Mart activity, but rather speed traps, squad cars eyeballing four way intersections for sign rollers, that sort of thing. You probably aren’t aware of such matters anymore, what with your big fancy limo and team of Secret Service folks, but trust me, it’s there. Or at least it appears to be.

A couple of months ago, I read a story about how municipalities are stepping up enforcement of all sorts of minor infractions because they need the money from the fines.

I’m no scofflaw. I have no problem with laws being rather vigorously enforced. But I think we step into very quick sand when we start looking at our law enforcement agencies as cash cows. Because the minute we start doing that, I think we divert them from the serious, honorable work we hired them to do. (And no, I did not just get a ticket. My last one was some time ago, and I don’t just write here about my personal grudges.)

I’m not accusing police of being unfair. I have great respect for them. What I’m saying is I know how politicians work, and the minute they smell revenue from stepping up enforcement, I think they can’t help but start subtly leaning in favor of more of it…not because it makes us safer, not because it keeps crime down, but purely because it gives them money for other programs that they don’t know how to fund. It is a secret tax of sorts. And making our police officers collect it in the faux name of public safety is terrible.

Take those automated speeding cameras, for example. I think the fundamental purpose for them is revenue, pure and simple. Because if they worked so wonderfully at controlling speeding, don’t you think every single town that installed them would see some monumental dip in all speeding violations and all speed related accidents? Wouldn’t they likely see their revenues go down because everyone would start driving so much more conservatively? And yet, I have not seen reports to that effect, and yet I have heard of towns crowing about how much operating money the cameras produce for the city.

My point is, the more we make the enforcement of laws and regulations into a cash making proposition, the further we stray from the true purpose of government. I trust my police force to keep my streets safe every day. I admire the hard work of dedicated officers who take on that dangerous and often unappreciated work. And I intensely dislike the notion that they might be turned into rolling cashiers for politicians who can’t convince the public to approve enough taxes for all the programs they might want.

Like I said, maybe I’ve got this all wrong, and I’ll look into it some more and let you know what I find. Hope your weekend is going well. How’s the family, btw? Seems like ages since I’ve asked.


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Find more of the Foreman Letters here.

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