The question for homework was:
In many cities, some unemployed people wash the windshields of cars stopped at traffic lights and then ask to be paid. In Vancouver, police in plain clothes wash car windshields so that they can look into the cars and see if the people inside are wearing seatbelts. Those who aren’t are fined. Compare this to enforcing seatbelt laws by using surveillance cameras at traffic intersections. Discuss pros and cons of both methods, and indicate whether each benefit or disadvantage applies to both the high- and low-tech methods or only one of them.
In answering the homework question, I think it is important to identify my political beliefs to establish a groundwork for how I approach the question. I think itâ€™s fair to say that an authoritarian pro-fascist Republican and a tree-hugging vegetarian liberal Democrat would have different viewpoints than the more main stream elements in society, and as at least a nominal sort-of-libertarian, I donâ€™t know that my viewpoint is any more â€œin stepâ€ than theirs would be.
I donâ€™t believe that driving an automobile is a â€˜rightâ€™, which is to say that, in principle, I donâ€™t have a big problem with people getting pulled over and ticketed for failing to wear their seat-belts. Unless Iâ€™m caught by them, I donâ€™t have a problem with red-light traffic cameras or speed-traps, either. I believe that driving is a revokable privilege and as Iâ€™ve spent much of the last ten years driving in the greater DC/Baltimore area and suburbs, I think it is a privlige which should be revoked a lot more often. (â€œNo turn signal usage? License revoked!â€)
Iâ€™m not a fan of the approach taken by the Vancouver, BC Police Department. It isnâ€™t that I think people should drive without their seatbelts â€“ although, to a certain extent, I wish more people would because than theyâ€™d die when they wrecked their cars and I wouldnâ€™t have to worry about them cutting me off or failing to lane change, etc. â€“ itâ€™s just that I think by approaching the cars the way they are, the VPD officers are doing far more than simply checking for seat-belts. It also is unnecessary for seat-belt enforcement: during a ride-along with the Baltimore County police department, I observed officers who were able to identify non-seatbelted drivers and passengers while driving. Approaching the vehicle on foot to make that determination was not necessary, which begs the question: â€˜What other motives might the VPD have for making a close visual inspection of a vehicle stopped by a supposed window washer?â€™
Can a remote camera determine if there is a bag of marijuana on the passenger seat? A bong peaking out from under the seat? The whiff of alcohol on the driverâ€™s mouth? I suppose these should be under the â€˜proâ€™ sections â€“ and as much as Iâ€™m in favor of dragging drunk drivers into the middle of the intersection and beating the shit out of them â€“ these seem like concerns of privacy to me, so while increased detection of crimes might be a â€œproâ€ as far as the police are concerned, the reduction of privacy makes it a â€œconâ€ to me.
I think it is possible Iâ€™ve wandered off the topic of the homework, so let me see if I can get back onto track.
Remote cameras can identify poor drivers and drivers failing to wear seatbelts. They canâ€™t necessarily determine if the driver is operating under the influence of alcohol or illegal substances, or if the driver is transporting drugs illegally the way a police dog might if it was on the scene during the â€œwindow washingâ€ crack-downs. Remote cameras protect a personâ€™s privacy more than a police officer looking through your window â€“ a remote camera might, by various programs, be able to determine if your driving is erratic, but it canâ€™t determine if youâ€™re acting â€œsuspiciousâ€ the way a cop a foot away looking in your window can.
Long and short here:
The pros of the camera are twofold: police resources can be relocated to better protect the public; and the privacy concerns of the civilian (non-police) population can be protected. The pros of the police doing actual â€œseatbelt stingsâ€ are that they can determine if the driver is transporting anything illegal, engaging in illegal behavior, or acting suspiciously.
The cons of the police conducting these stings is that it is a violation of an individualâ€™s privacy. What does it mean to â€œlook suspiciousâ€? I get nervous when Iâ€™ve been pulled over by the police. Does that make me suspicious to them? The cons of the camera is that in instances where it might in fact detect a drunk-driver, there is no way for the camera (or the computer system it is likely hooked into), to call up the police and get an immediate response.
For my money, if I have to choose, Iâ€™m pro-camera (providing it isnâ€™t taking survey information and is only engaging in limited actions â€“ non-seatbelt, running red lights) over such stings as the police are engaging in. I mean, câ€™mon, if the police stingers come up and wash my windshield and Iâ€™m wearing a seatbelt, and I pay them a buck, you canâ€™t expect me not to believe Iâ€™m not putting that right into their pocket.
(admittedly, Iâ€™m more familiar with the USâ€™s laws regarding searches and terms such as â€œplain sightâ€, so Iâ€™m not entirely certain if some of my pro and con list are applicable).
I tracked down my Prof this afternoon to apologize — again — for falling asleep last week. He told me not to worry about it, then told me he’d found my writing for the 3rd homework very funny — he’d laughed.
Not in a bad way I hope, I replied.
A student standing next to me said, Now you’ll laugh when you get your grade.
Which was an A.