News: Interview with Veteran South Beach Traffic Cop

The Traffic is Plumb Crazy

By David Arthur Walters

I buttonholed veteran Miami Beach traffic cop Alan Chin at Starbucks on West Avenue, where he meets regularly with other motorcycle cops to discuss the business of the day. Some people think cops are goofing off when seen in coffee houses, but that was not the case when I listened in on their discussion. They were not even drinking coffee, which all cops are supposed to love, so I was attempted to offer to buy them some, but then thought it would be inappropriate.

“Excuse me, Officer Chin,” I said after reading his nametag, “What is that wheel-like emblem on your shirts?”
“It means that we are in the motor unit.”

“You’re a traffic cop?”
“Yes, for sixteen years.”

“Do the cops in the squad cars also give traffic tickets?”
“Well, yes, they can, but we do most of the citations. We provide escorts, say, for inaugurations, and crowd control services, and we have other duties besides, so we are not always out citing traffic violations.”

“Is it true that the regular cops in the cars do not like traffic duty, and think it is beneath them?”
“It can be a hassle for them. They are out there responding to calls and going after the bad guys. We are more proactive, stopping all kinds of people?residents, tourists?it could be anyone.”

“But your job is just as dangerous?” I suggested. “I hear about a cop being murdered on a traffic stop almost every month.”
“Yes, that’s true. And if you noticed me leave and come back a few minutes ago, I went down the block to respond to an alarm at the bank.”

“So you could have encountered an armed robber?”
“Yes, but it was a false alarm.”

“I’ve been writing about traffic issues lately. There are accidents all over the side streets, and many people are getting run over on Alton Road. You know, pedestrians and cyclists are scared to death by the crazy traffic, especially around Alton Road. Old folks and even young merchants and their employees around there tell me they are afraid to leave their blocks on foot to get a sandwich.”

“Yes, Alton is a raceway,” he observed. “We periodically attempt to educate the public. Officers go out on the street in special uniforms, gather at certain places, where they do what they can to bring the public’s attention to the problem and educate drivers as to what they can do about it.”

“I saw a driver nearly run over a woman carrying a baby in her arms in the crosswalk by the Southpointe charter school on Alton.”
“We watch that place during certain hours.”

“You used to have a decoy there.”
“Yes, but drivers got wise to it, knowing there was nobody inside.”

“Maybe you could put a dummy in it that moves around. Do you believe handing out tickets like candy will help educate the public?”
“No, not at all,” he said. “I’ve been a traffic cop for sixteen years, and let me tell you that tickets do not stop the violations.”

“I don’t drive, but I have heard people complaining about getting a ticket, and swearing they will never do it again,” I argued. “I figure each person that gets a ticket will tell a hundred people.”
“Oh, that will wear off, and they will do it again and again. We stop the same people around here for the same violations.”

“The problem with careless driving seems to be getting worse and worse,” I offered. “I associated it in one of my articles with what I call massive narcissism, with drivers so self-interested they stop looking out for others.”
“It is getting worse,” he confirmed. “Drivers tend to think of their cars as their private homes where they can do what they please.”

“How many motorcycle traffic cops are there?”
“Fourteen?seven on one shift, seven on the other; remember that we have other duties.”

“Do you believe that is enough?”
“There never are enough officers, but there are enough violations out there that each additional unit could bring in far more revenue than it costs. We could make the city a lot of money. How many we have depends on the administration.”

“One of my pet peeves with the city manager, when he was negotiating with the police union,  is that he would have people believe that the major crime index should indicate what our law enforcement needs are, but that is not even half the story.”
“That is something we learn to put up with.”

“Thank you very much for speaking with me,” I said gratefully. “It is good to have the benefit of experience.”
“We meet here, as you know, so feel free to communicate with us.”

I was pleased to meet Officer Chin, and thought that it would be great if all police officers were as communicative in the interest of public education. There may be some characteristic difference between pro-active traffic cops, who deal with everyone, and reactive cops, who routinely respond to the offenses of bad guys.  Still, the three best ways to elicit mutually beneficial information and eliminate misunderstandings is to communicate, communicate, and communicate.

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