Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Poor judgment can be expensive

And then there was the day that we were all out making overtime bucks on a crackdown on speeders. Pretty much every officer not on regular duty was in making some extra cash, and I was no exception. I’d taken a laser and a few ticket books and gone down to one of my favorite hunting spots—the bottom of a long descending section of highway that’s about a mile past a point where the speed limit drops ten miles an hour from 55 to 45mph.

Now prior to this point, there are four signs either announcing the speed limit change or warning people of the impending speed limit change, so as far as I’m concerned, tagging people here is fair game. They were clearly warned.

What I do here is simple: I stand just off the side of the road with my laser, spot speeders, estimate their speed visually, then confirm with the laser. Then I walk out into the roadway, flag the speeder to a halt, then bring them over onto the shoulder to conduct business. It’s quick and easy and I can bang out dozens of tickets in relatively short order here, all of them for seriously excessive speed, typically well over and above even the 55pmh limit back up the highway. I understand that almost everyone speeds a little, so I’m casting my net for the big fish: the ones who are driving in excess of 75mph and who are therefore eligible for a Reckless Driving cite, which anyone doing more than 30mph over the limit here qualifies for.

I ding a few people without incident for a while, and then I see this Mercedes convertible whipping down the highway at virtually light-speed. I estimate 90mph and laser confirms 92. (Damn, I’m good…) I step out to wave this man down, and as he slows to a stop, I can see that he’s waving something and shouting “I already got one!”

OK, He got something. But what? And why should I care?

However, me being the curious sort, I ask him the first question. He responds by telling me that he just got a ticket from my “friend up the road.” As he’s holding it, I ask to see it, and sure enough, one of my fellow overtime whores has just stroked this guy for 86 on a 55mph zone. All I can do is smile as I direct him over onto the shoulder.

“But I just got a ticket!”

So now I have to explain to him that we do not operate under a system which grants carte blanche to anyone previously cited for a specific violation to commit it again for the rest of the day. “This ticket is for speeding back there,” I tell him as I hand his first reckless Driving ticket back to him. “Now we’re going to address your speed here. This is totally different.”

“Look, I’m on the way to the airport for a flight and I’m late! You guys are going to make me miss my plane!” He even showed me his airline ticket, which appeared to confirm that his flight was due to depart in a bit less than an hour.

So let’s see…he knew what time his plane was supposed to take off, but he dithered and now I’m making him miss his plane? Like I went into his house this morning and hit his alarm clock’s “snooze” button too many times? Whatever. If he was trying for sympathy, all he managed to do was compel me to write out the ticket just that much slower. I also took a moment to phone my compadre back up the highway and let him know who I just stopped.

“He was a total tool,” my squad-mate said when he heard the name. “Nail him hard.”

So I nailed him, just like I was going to do anyway. And predictably, when I walked back up to him and handed him his latest citation—his second Reckless Driving cite of the morning—he was in a lather. And of course it was all our/my fault.

“Now I’m really late! It’ll be a miracle if I make my flight now, thanks to you guys!” Just give me that ticket.”

But I held it back to make sure that I had his full attention.

“Sir, you need to know that your speed is not safe nor is it appropriate. Now I can understand your frustration as being late, but maybe next time you’ll want to get up a bit earlier so that you can get to the airport in a legal, safe manner.” I then proceeded to explain to him that he now has a second mandatory court date, but that because I was nice, I scheduled it for the same day as his previous mandatory court date.

“Just give me my license,” he yelled, visibly upset. “I have to go!”

“Sir, if you can’t calm down and drive safely, you won’t be going anywhere. I’m not having you driving badly like this on my highway, so what we’re going to do here is that I’m going to give you your license back, but then I’m going to follow you as far as the airport just to make sure that you drive safely. And if I see you exceed the speed limit even by a few miles an hour—or if I see you do anything else that’s unsafe—I’ll not only stop you again but I’ll be taking you off the road and arresting you, do you understand?”

“You can’t do that!”

“Well Sir, you just watch me in your rearview mirror if you think I can’t, because I’ll be right there.” And I handed him his license and his new ticket back and went back to my cruiser.

He was watching me as he pulled out, and I could almost feel his rage reflecting back as I pulled right out behind him. Some people are worth giving up a honey hole for.

I followed him all the way to the airport, about seven miles. And all the way there, he held his speed just under the limit as he alternated between watching his speedometer, watching me in his mirror, and occasionally actually glancing at the road ahead. It took us almost ten minutes to get to the airport ramp, but he kept it under 45mph the whole way. I checked the dash clock and it was 27 minutes before his plane’s scheduled departure time. He’d never park and get inside now in time to board. Oh well…

He did show up in court though. And the judge was less than moved, finding him guilty of both Reckless Driving charges after he rejected the prosecutor’s offer to dismiss one in exchange of a guilty plea on the other. He earned twelve points on his license and half a year on the bus following a six-month license suspension. I’m betting that insurance for that Mercedes just got pretty expensive, too. But if you’re going to be dumb…

Did I mention that I really enjoy my job sometimes?


HonkingAntelope said...

Is Reckless driving a misdemeanor or an infraction in your area? If it's a misdemeanor, then....OUCH.

Here in CA, 2x Reckless Driving would give someone a permanent criminal record, and a license suspension of at least a year for the two charges. This being four points in one year, would also trigger DMV suspension. I don't know if all three suspensions would run consecutively or concurrently, though. Of course, CA's Reckless requires way more than just a 30mph above the limit to convict.

Being a habitual Benz-driving speeder myself, I learned a long, long time ago that your chances of getting out of a ticket hinge significantly on how hard you make the officer's job and how well you do on the attitude test.

It's impossible to talk your way out of every ticket (and trying to talk your way out of one is a great way to end up getting one), but driving a nice car, not dressing up/acting like a thug, having all your paperwork in good order, and minding Officer Safety 101 will all go a long way to swing the odds in your favor when the officer hasn't entirely made up his mind to write a ticket before even making contact.

Moose said...

I love your writing style. And "He was a total tool" made me burst out laughing. [Now everyone in the coffeehouse is staring at me...]

I'm probably some kind of a bigot for thinking this but why does it seem to me that people who drive the expensive cars are the one aggressively driving, speeding and not using turn signals, and the people in the crap-tastic assplodemobiles (that look like they'll become parts on the ground if the driver sneezes) are driven by more polite, less aggressive people?

2 wheel terror said...

Loved the story! I just love it when things like that happen to deserving drivers. Stay safe and enjoy!

Holly said...

this one made me laugh. Never, never, never argue with the one who has the power. Never. Be polite and courteous, never give *them* a reason to make your life harder than it has to be.

Anonymous said...

love it! people drive like assholes. every day on my way to work i think i'm going to get killed by these assholes. too bad you don't work around here.