Letters to the Editor - January 28 - February 3, 2010

Published on Wed, Jan 27, 2010
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The Editor:
I am writing, as Blaine’s police chief, to a letter about traffic enforcement that appeared in the January 21 edition of The Northern Light.
I think the author offered a well-written and interesting perspective on his courtroom experience. Blaine has an excellent court with a reasonable and prudent judge who listens closely to the evidence.
Sometimes, as in the author’s case, the officer who issues an infraction is not present at the court hearing and so does not have a chance to offer clarification if the respondent offers conflicting testimony. The judge makes his decision based upon the information he has at the time.
The author questioned whether the city or its officers might issue citations simply to generate income. The answer is no. I have been a police officer for 33 years, and Blaine’s police chief for eight years.
No elected or appointed official here has ever asked me for more citations as a way to increase revenue. If it did come up, I would explain that the idea makes little business sense. I am told that for every $100 in traffic penalties paid to a municipal court in Washington, $63 goes to the state and various state traffic safety funds. The city collects $37 and any penalty reduction or mitigation ordered by the court comes out of that $37.
In short, it generally costs more to conduct enforcement and operate a court than is collected in fines. As an aside, I did not make the statement about revenue streams that the author attributed to me. The phrase and accompanying figures were possibly used in a report by the finance department to city council. If so, the numbers are probably accurate, because Blaine has a very good finance department which tracks expenses and revenues citywide.
The police department does not track revenue streams: our job is to generate public safety, not money.
Blaine police department does not have a traffic enforcement unit, nor do we have a quota for tickets. Officers do not receive pressure to write citations, nor perks if they do.
The author said that this was his “first traffic citation in over 15 years of driving in and about Blaine.” That is not exactly a vision of heavy handed enforcement, but it does reflect the reality that officers here conduct traffic patrol as one of the many varied tasks they perform.
We did recently start using in-car electronic forms to improve accuracy and shorten the time a violator has to sit at the curb on a traffic stop. This timesaving makes officers more efficient. As a result more work of all types gets done each shift, but there’s no special emphasis on citations. Time and location of traffic patrol is based on collision data, citizen complaints, and officer observations of need.
When they see a traffic violation, officers provide a warning when they reasonably can and an infraction when they should. Drivers are human and human nature is such that citations are more effective than warnings at promoting safe behavior. Some violations pose higher risks than others, so are more likely to result in a citation.
Finally, I offer a personal observation. I received a traffic infraction this past Thanksgiving. I was absent-mindedly speeding and was stopped. At the end of the police contact I was duly chagrined and had a penalty to pay the government. Part of me sure wishes I’d gotten a warning.
However, getting cited was a much stronger reminder to me of my obligation as a driver to remain watchful of my actions. The officer did me a favor by doing his job as a public safety professional. Despite my ticket, my experience with government authority during this economic downturn has been very positive. In our department, in the city of Blaine, and across government I see honest hard working people going the extra mile to perform their jobs with empathy and understanding. Perhaps our perception, how we choose to view the world and the actions of the people around us, does shape our experience.
Mike Haslip

The Editor:
Lemonade in January! I’ve been there, done that too, Mike Divine! It was 11 years ago, January 2, 1999. I recently arrived from sunny Florida, having turned left onto Peace Portal Drive from Blaine and Bell roads, with 45 mph speed limits, I failed to notice the 35 mph sign by the wrecked car yard.
Happily motoring on, I noticed, out a parked car’s window, a hand waving me over! Stopped by the used car lot, I waited in trepidation as an officer walked up to notify me I was doing 40-something in 35 mph zone. Apologetically, I noted my Florida license and being new here asked if a warning ticket would satisfy the spirit of the law to which the officer noted, “A warning ticket wouldn’t make any money.” I deferred further entreaties to take it easy on a newbie, as bucks for Blaine seemed the game’s name and accepting the status quo, prudent. Lemons happen!
Soon, before the judge I pled my case of a senior on social security, whereby and whereas the judge noted he would benefit me by reducing the $100 fine to $66.
And for me, that introduction by one of Blaine’s finest to a major line item in Blaine’s budget remains a blessing in that I’ve taken senior driving courses biannually since, with lasting benefits from that officer’s avarice as discounts in my auto insurance premiums have reimbursed my $66 and today I’m an alert, confident, happy camper driver, enjoying my lemonade!
Bob Hendricks

The Editor:
Read your constitution lately? U.S. Constitution, Article II, Section 4:
“The President, Vice President and all civil officers of the United States, shall be removed from office on impeachment for, and conviction of, treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.”
The two operative words are shall and bribery.
Obama’s blatant bribery of two Senators was blasted all over the news media recently and for a body of lawyers like we have in our Congress to ignore this fact is appalling and disgusting, regardless of party. I say that Obama and all those that voted for the healthcare bill should be impeached and voted out.
Where’s the outrage, where’s the sense of duty and where’s the patriotism in our Congress and our citizens? Larsen, Murray, Cantwell, where are you? Our judiciary and Supreme Court, where are you? Evidently they’re sleeping in and obviously shirking their duties.
Martin Conyac

The Editor:
Regarding a letter to the editor in the January 21 edition of The Northern Light, I noticed that the author didn’t deny that he ran the stop sign at H Street and Peace Portal Drive, only that he managed to beat the rap on technicalities.
His victimization scenario even went so far as to assert that his ticket somehow resulted from the “unbridled greed of an unaccountable few” whose “abuse of discretionary power” somehow gave the officer a “perverse incentive” to stuff the city’s coffers by writing bogus tickets.
Excuse my French but what a crock!
Blaine’s police officers are honest, responsible, fair, and community-minded public servants who don’t get nearly enough respect and appreciation.
Officers are sworn to uphold and enforce the law, sir. That’s about all there is to it. Stop signs mean stop. That’s the law. If you choose to ignore the law, don’t be surprised if you get caught once in awhile.
By the way, I think making money off lawbreakers is an excellent revenue source.
John Yirak

The Editor:
Between 1987 and 2007, the prison population in this country tripled. Much of that increase occurred in states that had adopted harsh punishments such as the three-strikes law and severe drug laws although they had already falling crime rates.
According to the Pew Center on the States, spending from general funds on corrections increased from $10.6 billion to more than $44 billion, which is a 127 percent increase. During the same period, spending on higher education only increased 21 percent.
Tight budgets seem to have mandated a slackening in these costly policies. Many states, hard hit by the recession, have come to realize that they simply do not have the money to keep people in prison who don’t need to be there. Washington incarcerates three-strikers for their entire lives without the possibility of parole ever. Some 72 percent of those serving this sentence were convicted of non-violent crimes. In our current economy, how can we afford this? In any economy, should we afford this?
Shirley White
Port Townsend

The Editor:
Although this is a new decade, the same stupid actions are being taken by this council and management.
In these economic disaster times caused by the pinhead in the White House when the city should be lowering the utility fees to the residences of this economic disaster of a city, they in their infinite stupidity are raising them.
Second, putting in traffic circles will prove to be a financial disaster to the businesses in the area, which they may not recover from.
It was just a few years ago this city spent a few million of your tax money to put in the traffic lights and now that is all for not.
This city is in bad enough shape as it is, without much hope of improvement under the current form of lunacy that is running it.
You the people who have spent your lives building this city need to enlighten the council to do away with the traffic circles, lower the utility fees to try and attract new businesses and residences which in the long term will add to the city coffers and take the burden of the existing citizens off of having to foot the bill for the mismanagement.
This city is over staffed at middle and upper management types, some of whom don’t have the education of a turnip, and there is not accountability on the part of these people to you the taxpayer because you won’t stand up and hold them accountable for their actions.
David White

The Editor:
A huge thank you to Blaine Conservatory for donating 100 percent of the ticket sales from their winter recital to the Blaine Boys & Girls Club! Kelly Henson-Renoud presented the club with a check totaling over $1,000. We are humbled by the generosity and grateful for this gift.
This money will be used for after school snacks, arts & craft supplies, new games for the games room and allow us to extend scholarships to families unable to afford our $30 annual membership fee.
On behalf of over 400 club members, thank you to all who attended and made this donation possible. Of all the Boys & Girls Clubs in Whatcom County, the Blaine club has the highest average daily attendance. The need is great and we appreciate those who make it possible for the doors to stay open.
Karin Schulhauser,
Local branch director

The Editor:
The January 26 county council vote is on bill 2009-135, ordinance staying pro-active enforcement of OSS WCC 24.05. I agree with WCC 24.05 implementation over time for protection of public health and the environment. I favor the draft ordinance as:
It upholds WCC 24.05, allowing gradual upgrading, and isn’t suddenly so costly and heavy handed.
Current enforcement implies an emergency in public health and or enforcement implies an emergency in public health and/ or the environment. If so, where is all the supporting information?
Properties in my area (Point Roberts) are seldom occupied: in the winter WCC 24.05 assumes full time occupancy (four people). From fall to spring the occupancy is less than 10 percent by one or two people. This represents significantly less risk than from full time residents. Furthermore, the Point Roberts water supply is not at risk from OSS (from Metro Vancouver).
Public enforcement response response is low due to seasonal occupancy (Point Roberts), and communication between neighbors is almost non-existent during winter.
Regulation-compliant OSS mounds are ugly, resembling large graves. This is especially noticeable if every home requires a mound.
The draft ordinance resembles the abandoned underground  storage tank (UST) issue in Washington and North Vancouver where I reside. The tanks are mostly removed upon property transfer. Over time this alleviates the problem and risk.
OSS systems were built and inspected to the standards of the day. The current regulations are more stringent. Now many owners are penalized and must install costly OSS to avoid punitive actions and fines, without evidence to support such rapid action.
Please pass the draft ordinance, the common sense approach.
Erik Rehtlane
Point Roberts

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