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Unmarked police vehicles and traffic cameras: necessary or just police convenience?

Adobe Stock
Adobe Stock

In Michigan, they put in effect a new practice called “Operation Ghost Rider” in order to catch distracted drivers. The unmarked police vehicles drive around and find drivers on their phones and radio another officer and they go to pull them over to give them a fine. 

It is a common practice in the police field to utilize unmarked vehicles and traffic cameras to find people driving illegally. People often drive differently when they see police, so this is a way for them to catch people in their natural driving behavior. Unmarked vehicles radio to another police in a marked vehicle to come and pull them over. However, the police vehicle pulling the civilians over did not see the law-breaking taking place, and they were just utilizing “hearsay” reasoning. It is wrong for an officer to give someone a ticket of any kind when they were not there to make any judgments and they are just listening to what the officer may or may not have seen. 

This is not a strategic method because it is easy for police to make mistakes, and someone could get a big ticket or punishment for something that could’ve been mistaken.  For example, it is easy for the marked police vehicle to hear the other officer incorrectly and pull over the wrong car.

These punishments for distracted driving are expensive, and can even cost your license. Detroit Free Press describes, “Penalties are: first violation, $100 fine and/or 16 hours of community service; second or subsequent violations, $250 fine and/or 24 hours of community service; three violations within three years, the driver must complete a driving-improvement course. Violators can be cited for careless driving, a three-point offense, and civil infraction punishable by a fine.” These are very harsh punishments that could result from a mistake and given by an officer who did not even see the incident occur. 

Another method for police to catch people’s driving errors discreetly is through traffic cameras. These cameras are often on red lights and capture drivers speeding, running through red lights, or other illegal driving. This is a method in 20 states, not including Michigan. 

Many issues come with this such as if someone else borrows your vehicle for a day and gets caught on camera breaking the law, this ticket is mailed to the owner of the car through the license plate, and they are forced to pay it even if it was not them. Whereas if someone were to get pulled over by a normally marked police vehicle, the person driving would be the one issued the ticket. 

A  huge problem that comes with this is potential accidents due to people making quick decisions after seeing the camera. The Michigan Law Firm, PC states, “Additionally, a study conducted in Los Angeles, California highlighted how red-light cameras led to an increase in traffic accidents, predominantly rear-end car crashes from drivers slamming on their brakes after seeing the camera’s flash.” This can cause more harm than good in this case. Having police sit out and watch for people to catch people themselves, which is what they get paid to do is safer than potentially someone losing their life. 

High school students often fear getting caught, so this could potentially danger them more than adults which becomes a bigger issue. 

Many problems occur when dealing with undercover practices in the police field that cause mistakes, fines, accidents, and people paying for other people’s law-breaking which could also cost the lives of some people which is ultimately more unsafe in the end.

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