Sunday, May 31

Aaron Julian: City officials should use traffic violations for safety, not revenue

Noelle Cho/Daily Bruin

I went to high school in the heart of Washington, D.C. and admittedly, I jaywalked many times in one of the most secure and heavily policed cities in the world. Never once did it occur to me, however, that this behavior could end up causing me struggles financially or with law enforcement elsewhere. Los Angeles is that place.

Unlike the District, LA public transportation is lacking, so many people have to drive. In fact, Los Angeles is considered to have “the worst gridlock in the country,” and with widespread car use comes more dangerto pedestrians as seen by this city having the title of “Most Dangerous City for Pedestrians.”

[Related: LA needs reliable public transportation, not emphasis on rail lines]

As expected, the city has enacted measures to increase public safety such as city ordinance 21955VC, which sets the minimum fine for jaywalking citations to $250. According to the city, pedestrian restrictive laws increase safety. Although written with good intentions, these exorbitant fines overburden financially strapped Los Angeles residents.

The city council officials need to lower this fine not only because of this financial burden, but also because it has failed in its purpose of increasing pedestrian safety. Pedestrian deaths are still significantly higher than the average city.

In fact, on Bruin Walk, students can see a sign warning of the financial consequences of jaywalking.

These fines pose a problem because most people, especially students, struggle to afford such a steep fine for such a minor offense – arguably, one that we all make. Not only that, the reasoning behind these high fines and the enforcement of these violations leaves much to be questioned. Student debt totals nearly $1.4 trillion and it is rising at a rate of $2,726 every second. A $250 fine for jaywalking would be a severe hit on families already struggling to afford skyrocketing tuition and rent. These fines could mean the difference between affording enough food to eat and making tuition payments before you are automatically dropped from classes.

Of course, the city codes allow for payment plans and reduced prices for those who cannot afford it. However, this process costs time and generally more money than the fines themselves. If the judge does not reduce the ticket price, appearing in court costs a base fee of $25 if found guilty and another clerical fee up to $35 in addition to paying off the ticket. On top of that, if you don’t make your payments, the court can charge up to an additional $300. The other option would be community service in lieu of payment. However, the pay rate is $10 an hour and could take up many days worth of time that could have been spent working one’s real job.

Another problem with these fines is that they are using continually added penalty assessment violations that are used for various city funds that include construction. According to a 2006 report by the California Research Bureau these fees have awarded the state over $500 million of added revenue. Cities should not be increasing fees as a means of funding themselves. These officials use this as a way to avoid the unpopular action of raising taxes, but this method has been overused to the point that the most harmless of penalties could cost minimum wage workers most of an entire week of income. Furthermore, depending on this revenue could lead to pressures for precincts to find more of these violations. For instance, this January the LAPD settled a case with an officer for $1 million due to the alleged use of ticketing quotas on officers to receive promotions or certain benefits. So far these cases cost taxpayers over $10 million. This raises questions regarding the tens of thousands of yearly citations given out by the LAPD.

Neighborhood councils, students and individuals need to demand change in city code from their city officials by writing letters and calling, and even voting them out if necessary. The fees themselves must be levied based upon weekly income. Instead of enforcing a one-time extraordinary fine, the city should issue fines of lower price that increase with every repeat violation. In that way, those who violate the rules still learn the risk of breaking these codes, but do not have their finances and lives severely altered by the incident.

This fine is significantly higher than the $1 fine in Boston, which is considered America’s walking city. In many cities, jaywalking is a way of life, and onerous fines and strict enforcement of jaywalking clearly are not needed to ensure pedestrian safety.

Certainly, the blame can unfairly fall upon police officers instead of the city and state officials. But the city councilors are the ones who write these ridiculous codes that focus more on bringing in revenue for their various funds rather than focusing on what is safe and fair for the individuals they have sworn to serve.

Sgt. Isaac Koh of the UCPD said it best when he said citations should be used to “prevent that violation from happening again … and the violation itself must be pretty flagrant.” The emphasis of UCPD is safety above all else. To ensure there is no personal subjectivity, these officers “do not know the fines because there would be personal subjectivity involved.” The eyes of justice must be blind for law enforcement to be effective. City council raises the fines of these citations that the LAPD enforces even though they have not significantly affected pedestrian deaths. The result has been the brave individuals of the LAPD dealing with a severe breach of trust with the populace they honorably protect.

Everyone in Los Angeles must also look inward. For drivers, stay conscientious by not texting, calling or engaging in distracting behaviors behind the wheel. Pedestrians also must take note – as they travel from place to place – that being absorbed in a phone or text or conversation could have devastating results if caution is not had. Even if you make it across the road safely, you can still end up with a burdensome fine.



Julian was an Opinion columnist.

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