One Officer’s Moral Guidelines

A question posted recently on the website Quora asked, “What makes an officer more or less likely to issue a speeding ticket?” Former police officer Justin Freeman gave his opinion on the topic, below.

He also implicitly described his moral guidelines for the exercise of discretion.

“My gauge was always reasonableness.

If your license plate tags expired one month ago, I can see you not noticing and would probably cut you a break. If they expired one year ago, not so much.

If I pull you over for plates expired months ago, and you say, “I’ve been trying to get money together so I could renew them,” but there are $300 worth of cigarette butts in the ashtray and the backseat is full of bags from the mall, you’re getting a ticket.

If you don’t have insurance, you’re almost certainly getting a ticket. People who didn’t want to pay for insurance figured if they could get less than three tickets a year, they could get out of paying a premium and just pay their insurance fine, which would actually be less expensive since they were high risk. I never gave them the satisfaction.

I never really ran radar, so I didn’t write many speeding tickets – maybe four or five over three years. Even then, they were all for going at least twenty miles an hour over the limit (or speeding while they were drunk). Every officer has a magic number. One of my colleagues’ was, “Twelve [mph] over you’re fine, thirteen and you’re mine.” Now, some officers’ magic numbers may be one, so don’t bank on any kind of window. I never nailed one down, but probably would have if I ever did traffic enforcement.

If you’re driving drunk, you’re getting so many tickets. I’ve personally written as many as eight to one person after one incident, and a colleague in another agency (with a more permissive pursuit policy) once wrote 36 after a drunk driving pursuit. I have seen so many dead bodies lying on asphalt because of drunk drivers. No mercy.

Ladies, don’t count on sexing the situation up to dodge a ticket. I’ve written lots of citations to women with heaving cleavage who had obviously fussed with their blouse prior to my approach. What favor am I currying by not writing a ticket? There is absolutely nothing in it for me in that scenario. It’s not like just giving a warning is going to prompt her to go ahead and peel her top off. I’m not saying it would never work on anyone, but it didn’t go anywhere with me.

In any situation where a citation issuance was in the cards, I honestly tried to put myself in the shoes of the driver. Where are they coming from? Where are they going? Would I have noticed the same thing on my car? Would I go that fast off-duty? I tried to be very fair with my citations, and I like to think that if I ever gave you one, you could at least admit how I saw it was necessary. Some officers issued them indiscriminately, but I tried to, again, just be reasonable.”

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About stephenomeara

My name is Jim Jordan. I have had the privilege of working with the Boston Police Department and hundreds more departments over my nearly 30-year career in police administration and city government. I am now teaching and consulting independently at www.sergeantsleadership.org. I have learned the best of what I know from the thousands of smart, dedicated and ethical police personnel and scholars who have guided me along the way. My address is named for the great Reform commissioner of the Boston Police at the turn of the 20th century. Commissioner O'Meara died just a short while before the Strike in 1919. He was replaced by a vicious puppet (of Gov. Coolidge) named Edwin U. Curtis. Had O'Meara lived events may have turned out quite differently.
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