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Friday, December 28, 2007

God's Amazing Mercy

I have never been pulled over by the police before. In fact, the last time I was involved in a traffic stop, I was the cop. When I was the person behind the wheel of the car being stopped...we were in training.

Amazing...that training can really come in handy!

This afternoon I took Lexington Ave. home, as I had to stop someplace en route so this road was a better option than my regular one. It also happens to be a long road with varying speed zones, passing through farmland (in the 'burbs!), past small strip malls, etc. Today the weather wasn't quite nasty, but there was snow on the road. The temps made it mostly wet, but there were slippery spots and the radio was reporting various spinouts on the freeways. I was glad to be on this that point it was a 2 lane, I was going at or just under the speed limit of 50 mph, and there was a good distance between the car ahead of me and myself. On days like this, even when I feel comfortable in driving the limit (usually I'm a granny on snowy roads), I keep a lot of distance and a lookout on what's up ahead in case slowing down is more difficult than it appears. So I assure you, I was driving quite carefully.

But then I saw a squad car, and for years, I have checked my spedometer whever I see a cop...and did so today, not even thinking about it. Traffic was slowing and I was, too, although I was a tad late in doing so as I'd crept closer to the car ahead of me.

And suddenly I got a sinking feeling as I saw the squad check his speed and turn around. Oh, no.

I kept driving, saw the next sign, 35 mph, and slowed down, still keeping my distance from the car ahead. The squad was creeping up. No lights. But I knew what he was doing...if he was indeed after me, he was getting close enough to read my plate and type or call it in. (I suspect they have computers in their cars in that 'burb). Then he had to wait for it to come back. I drove forward when the light changed, and then his lights came on. I pulled over, and sure enough he stopped right behind me.

That's when my training really kicked in; I made sure to pull as far into the right hand snowbank that used to be a curb as I could, and as I did so, I glanced back and saw that he was properly positioning the squad to offset, creating a barrier for his own safety. So there I was...being pulled over and thinking of officer safety!

I also rolled my window down and turned down the radio, pulled out my driver's license and kept my hands where they could be seen.

The officer walked up and, while he took my license, he told me that there was a speed reduction zone that went from 50 to 40 mph and he'd gotten me at 50. Then he asked for my insurance, which I reached over and took out of my bag, moving slowly, again, keeping my hands in very clear view. I knew what traffic stops were like; and what he needed to see from me. He verified that I still live at the same address, and walked back to his car. There was no conversation or room for it. His tone was polite and matter-of-fact.

I knew that the best way to respond in any traffic stop is with humility; if the police stop you, you've probably done something wrong and they saw it. If it was speeding, they have it on radar; as he'd said, I missed a speed zone sigh and was still going 50.

While I waited, I figured I'd be getting a ticket...which I can't afford. Not now. Not ever, but especially not now! And I knew that if I was 10 over, I deserved the ticket, and I would pay it without contesting it. I deserved it, pure and simple.

And I remembered that just the other day, a random thought popped into my head; where was my most recent insurance card? Had I put it in my car? I checked my bag...I had it in my backpack, both cards. I had NOT put it in my car, and as of today, it was still in my backpack. But because of that random thought, today I KNEW where the cards were, which saved me a trip to court to prove that I do, in fact, have insurance on my car. Had I not had that card, I knew, he's be writing a court summons for "no proof of insurance." That's actually not a huge deal; you just have to go to court to proove that you do, in fact, have insurance. Unfortunately, that ticket can often mean an impound...and you have to have proof of insurance to get your car out of impound. So, note to everyone...make CERTAIN that you carry your insurance IN your car or on your person at all times lest you do something stupid.

All of this flashed through my mind in a second, and then I was thinking about the ticket likely being written. I thought about begging God for mercy; it was 3:15 at that point, Friday during the Hour of Mercy. And I was going to get a speeding ticket. Stupid, stupid, stupid. And I had to humbly acknowledge that if he wrote the citation, I was deserving of it, and had to suck it up. But just the same, I prayed a few Hail Mary's, surrendering to what was to be. It was all I could do.

The officer got out of his car. There was nothing in his hands, but my DL. I figured he'd walk up and pull his book out of one of his pockets and hand me the citation there. I did not for one moment believe that I was going to come out of this unscathed.

He handed me back my license...and nothing else. He told me to be more careful next time and wished me a good day.

I was stunned. Just stunned. I DESERVED a ticket. But there it was...mercy.

As I drove away, I considered my own time in law enforcement. We often didn't write tickets in a traffic stop. And in fact, a secret a lot of people don't know, and one you should take with a grain of salt, police officers often don't begin writing speeding tickets unless someone is 10 over the limit or more. Anything under becomes a waste to one degree or another, and the courts often forgive them. 10 and over tends to involve knowledge of the deed, or actual inattention. Now, keep in mind, the Minnesota State Patrol may stop you for even 1 mph over the limit, especially if they are working traffic in a certain area. So, yes, you still can be cited for even minimal offense. So be forewarned.

One of the things I learned in my field training is the reason for citing someone...a traffic stop should ALWAYS be educational, I was told. Explain why they were stopped, to the point. Some people are amenable to education; some are not, but always try. Not every stop warrants a citation, and quotas are a fabrication of common urban mythology. We didn't stop people to make a quota; we stopped people for public safety reasons.

People with a lot of priors were much more prone to getting a citation; because a simple stop apparently never changed their behavior. Financial impact can actually make a difference for some. Other people apparently just like to finance the local government agencies through going too fast or engaging in some other unlawful conduct...willfully. Some people just shouldn't be driving, because they have no concept that their behavior affects others. Oh, wait...that applies to a LOT more than driving!

People with clean records can be a tossup, depending on what cop you talk to. Some officers see those with clean records as the perpetually lucky, and if they get stopped, now they're due. Other officers look at people with clean records as those who likely habitually drive well, and if they are stopped, it is in a brief moment, a speed zone sign missed, simple error versus actual willful breaking of the law. I think more often than not, if the infraction is that minimal, most officers will let people go with a word to take more care.

While I will be eternally grateful for today's experience of mercy, I wonder if the latter situation is why I "got off." My record is clean. Back in 1992 when I totalled my car 3 months after I bought it, I got a "failure to yield" ticket...the accident was my fault. Let me tell you...that accident taught me a LOT! And it lent to careful driving habits, especially when making a left turn. Yet even that incident arose out of a moment of confusion, not criminal intent. But even though I'd previously been innocent, my action caused harm thus I was deserving of a citation. Fault was REALLY obvious. And now, having worked in insurance, yeah, I agree...stupid actions sometimes make it obvious who broke what law. It's been years, though, since then, and as I explained, I've never been so much as pulled over...until today.

I suspect that the officer was actually running traffic in a problem area. A lot of people don't realize that when they set up speed traps or tend to stop people more often in certain locations, it's because of something brought to their attention by citizens. We used to sit in the briefing room every morning at the start of our shift, and listen to the letters sent in by citizens REQUESTING that the police dept. work traffic in certain areas where they live. This happened so much that the department established a traffic unit and purchased an unmarked car for the purpose. What does THAT tell you?

The next time you hear someone complain that the cops should be going out and catching "real criminals" instead of handing out tickets, tell them to take their complaints to the people who live in the location where he was they can set him straight.

In my case...yeah, I was in the wrong, 50 in a 40, but my error came not from willfully speeding, but simply missing the speed reduction sign, and not by much. But still - it was what it was. He would have been just in handing me that piece of preprinted cardstock.

I'm happy, though, having that experience of mercy. Now I know how people felt when I left them with just a verbal admonition to be more careful. Yeah, I'll be more careful, too, especially on that stretch of road!

See? Education works!


Terry Nelson said...

That stretch of road is notorious as a speed trap.

Anonymous said...

My husband is a Police Officer..i'm always praying a Hail Mary when i see a police car..coz i'm terrible at wearing seat belts or going a couple of miles over..we have nasty speed cameras now that flash when you go over the limit..yeah fines YUK!

Adoro said...

Terry ~ I had no idea. But then again, as far as I knew, I was within the limit. That's actually the first time I headed north past County Road J on Lexington so I really wasn't familiar with the different zones.

MJP ~ I'll keep your husband in my prayers. The police have tough jobs, and even what the public think is a simple thing can be very dangerous for an officer. (Such as traffic stops, for example)

Anyway, you have speed cameras? Here in Minnesota, Minneapolis installed red light cameras, and a lot of peole were ticketed when they went through the red lights. But someone challenged this system, as the driver of the car cannot be identified via the camera, so the ticket goes to the car's owner. That was deemed by the MN State Supreme Court as being unconstitutional and the city was forced to remove the cameras and even remit the fines they had charged.

Speed cameras sound terrible, and unfair, because I'm guessing they can't identify the actual driver, either.

Anonymous said...

Lucky you adoro, I was just recent pulled over. I passed a car in a no passing lane--but he gave me a break for having on by seatbelt. I thought is was legal to pass--but--wrong and it cost me seventy-two bucks to learn it was wrong. Oh, well.

Dymphna (4HisChurch) said...

Well, you've made me think, that's for sure. While I am not disrespectful when I'm pulled over, I don't actually think of it as an opportunity for humility. I'll have to rethink that.

Adoro te Devote said...

Tara ~ I'm sorry...hard lesson for an honest mistake!

Dymphna ~ EVERYTHING is an opportunity for humility, ESPECIALLY when a fine is involved!

Courageous Grace said...

Heh, I've only been pulled over once. I was going home after visiting my mother and going 70 in a 55. This particular stretch USED to be a 70 zone until the area grew up in the last few years. I was not used to the change from when I used to live in the area and had no idea the speed limit had gone down. The officer asked where I was coming from and I told him I was going home after visiting my mother. He asked me if I realized I was going 70 in a 55 and (without having ANY intention of talking myself out of a ticket, I knew I deserved it if I really was speeding) I said "It's 55?"

Call it a blonde moment, but I really had no idea at the moment he asked that the limit had been lowered for that area. He let me off with a warning and reminded me to pay attention to the signs in the future. I fully deserved the ticket and wasn't going to argue it if he had given it, but I was shocked that he just gave me a warning. I think maybe he was more concerned with other crimes and wasn't really looking to hand out speeding tickets...