For of all the sad words of tongue or pen,
The saddest are these: “It might have been!”
What might have been? That’s likely what some families may be wondering as they ponder the significant drop in traffic and other citations issued by Lawrence police during 2012. A city report shows that 28,707 citations were issued during the year, a drop of 7.6 percent from 2011 and the first instance in at least five years in which ticket volume did not reach 30,000.
There’s no formal explanation on the record yet. Officials speculate that staffing levels and priorities in assigning manpower may be part of the underlying cause.
The department issued 6,000 speeding tickets in 2008 and more than 5,000 in 2009 and 2010 before the numbers were more than halved in 2011 and 2012. This would seem to warrant a review of practices.
The same goes for tickets issued for driving under the influence of alcohol, which plummeted to a five-year low of 394 in 2012, down from a peak of 798 in 2010.
Would lives have been saved with more focus on enforcing traffic and DUI laws? Would people who were hospitalized have been spared their injuries? Would the costs of medical care, auto repair and other damages have been lessened if the levels of enforcement had merely stayed the same as in previous years?
This is not a call for overly strict law enforcement or for implementation of harsh crackdowns on driving infractions or other behaviors. It’s not a criticism of police officers or their individual judgment.
It is certainly a cry for introspection on the part of the city and its top police administrators.
We’re a growing city with a sizable population of young, relatively inexperienced drivers — a segment of the population with a propensity to flout laws and ordinances that might get in the way of having a good time (minor in possession tickets also were below the five-year average in 2012.)
Such a city requires a law enforcement focus that protects the public from, well, itself — and makes certain there are fewer family members wondering today what might have been, in terms of lives damaged or lost, if only there had been more staffing, or a different enforcement priority, or…