Posts tagged Ron Smith

Professional courtesy

(Boing Boing 2008-04-07, via Roderick Long 2008-04-08.)

It’s 1:45 p.m. on a Wednesday in February and a Toyota Camry is driving west on the 91 Express Lanes, for free, for the 470th time.

The electronic transponder on the dashboard – used to bill tollway users – is inactive. The Camry’s owners, airport traffic officer Rudolph Duplessis and his wife, Loretta, have never had a toll road account, officials say.

They’ve never received a violation notice in the mail, either. Their car is registered as part of a state program which hides their home address on Department of Motor Vehicles records. The agency that operates the tollway does not have legal access to their address.

Their Toyota is one of 996,716 vehicles registered to motorists who are affiliated with 1,800 state and local agencies and who are allowed to shield their addresses under the Confidential Records Program.

An Orange County Register investigation has found that the program, designed 30 years ago to protect police from criminals, has been expanded to cover hundreds of thousands of public employees — from police dispatchers to museum guards — who face little threat from the public. Their spouses and children can get the plates, too.

This has happened despite warnings from state officials that the safeguard is no longer needed because updated laws have made all DMV information confidential to the public.

The Register found that the confidential plate program shields these motorists in ways most of us can only dream about:

  • Vehicles with protected license plates can run through dozens of intersections controlled by red light cameras and breeze along the 91 toll lanes with impunity.

  • Parking citations issued to vehicles with protected plates are often dismissed because the process necessary to pierce the shield is too cumbersome.

  • Some patrol officers let drivers with protected plates off with a warning because the plates signal that the drivers are one of their own or related to someone who is.

Exactly how many people are taking advantage of their protected plates is impossible to calculate. Like the Orange County Transportation Authority, which operates the tollway, many agencies have automated processes and have never focused on what happens to confidential plate holders. Sometimes police take note of the plate and don’t write a ticket at all.

I would highly doubt that anybody is registering their vehicles on a confidential basis to do anything but protect themselves, Garden Grove Police Capt. Mike Handfield said. I just don’t think people are thinking they’re getting away with anything…. Is the value of having a confidential plate and protecting the law enforcement community from people who might hurt them, is that worth that risk? I believe it is.

The Register asked the DMV for a list of the number of motorists participating in the program and the agencies they claim as an employer. But the DMV refused to provide those records unless The Register paid $8,442, which officials said was the cost of extracting the list from its database.

Some police officers confess that when they pull over someone with a confidential license plate they’re more likely to let them off with a warning. In most cases, one said, if an officer realizes a motorist has a confidential plate, the car won’t be pulled over at all.

It’s an unwritten rule that we would extend professional courtesy, said Ron Smith, a retired Los Angeles Police Department officer who worked patrol for 23 years. Nine out of 10 times I would.

California Highway Patrol officer Jennifer Hink put it a little differently. It’s officer discretion … (But) just because you have confidential plates doesn’t mean you’re going to get out of a citation.

Many police departments that run red light camera programs systematically dismiss citations issued to confidential plates.

It’s a courtesy, law enforcement to law enforcement, San Francisco Police Sgt. Tom Lee said. We let it go.

— Jennifer Muir, Orange County Register (2008-04-04): Special license plates shield officials from traffic tickets

The term professional courtesy comes from the traditions of medicine: many doctors will not charge money when they treat another doctor’s immediate family. When doctors talk about professional courtesy they are talking about a very old system of mutual aid in which one doctor agrees to do a favor for another, at her own expense, for the sake of collegiality, out of concern for professional ethics (to offer doctors an alternative to having their own family as patients), and because she can count on getting similar services in return should she ever need them.

But when the Gangsters in Blue start talking about professional courtesy, they’re talking about something quite different: a favor done for a fellow gang member at no personal expense, with the bill sent to unwilling taxpayers who must pick up the tab for the roads and parking; and a favor done in order insulate the gangsters and their immediate family from any kind of ethical accountability to the unwilling victims that they sanctimoniously insist on serving and protecting. Professional courtesy in medicine means reciprocity in co-operative mutual aid in healing sick people; professional courtesy in government policing means reciprocity in a conspiracy to make sure that any cop can do just about anything she wants by way of free-riding, disruptive, dangerous or criminal treatment of innocent third parties, with complete impunity, and the rest of us will get the bill for it and a fuck you, civilian if we don’t like it.

To be sure, letting a traffic ticket slide is, in the grand scheme of things, a pretty small thing. But it’s a small thing that is intimately connected with bigger things—with a pervasive, institutionalized system with consequences that are as terrible as they are inevitable and predictable.