A friend of mine got a traffic ticket the other day, it wasn’t anything serious. As chance encounters with “the man” often do, this got me thinking.
The officer wrote him up for “unsafe start” or something like that, which is the equivalent of “impeding traffic”. I believe it is a moving violation so the officer can apply it towards his monthly ticket quota, but a bunk ticket worth no points against his license and minimal fine (although I think “minimal” is still $110 in MI). However, this is not what he was doing. In fact, he was attempting to complete a left-turn through a downtown intersection, and at this precise intersection (not all intersections) it seems left turns are prohibited. Oh well, it was posted, so technically he should’ve know better or whatever.
So yeah, this got me thinking. I mean, aside from the fact that every single officer in every single jurisdiction in the country has perjured himself in such a manner, that this practice is pervasively routine and accepted. Many people are content with this because of the presumption of that the officer is somehow helping you out or doing you a favor by reducing the infraction. (You know what would be even more favorful? Yep: not writing a ticket in the first place!)
This is the “good cop” fnord: the officer could’ve made your life far more miserable, but shows a degree of restraint and only subjects you to a slightly lesser degree of punishment, therefore he’s “good” and you should be grateful for his benevolence.
But consider: the officer wrote him a ticket for something they both know he didn’t do. Isn’t this “falsifying a police report”?
A common argument used by law enforcement apologists is that the officers don’t get to decide which laws they want to enforce, they don’t get to decide which laws are just or which laws to enforce, rather they are just enforcing the law to the letter (IMO this is a variant of the “following orders” fallacy). But the fact of the matter is that law enforcement officers routinely decide which laws they want to enforce. Perhaps they don’t pull anyone over for speeding unless they’re really speeding. Maybe they ignore the fact that you didn’t use your turn signal. In other cases (e.g., racial profiling) they selectively enforce laws, perhaps only pulling over speeders who are black or Hispanic, etc.
You might say, “Well, these are minor civil infractions and not crimes per se…” but you’re falling in to that exact same trap of deciding which laws are appropriate to enforce, to what degree they will be enforced and under what circumstances and you’re using only the letter of the law as your guide.
You can not use “the letter of the law” as your guide to evaluating the propriety of the law.