Since the beginning of this year, I have noticed a marked increase in traffic stops in Plainfield. I have observed a stop at Prospect St and Kensington Ave (by an undercover), Leland and E Third St (a cab was pulled over), South Avenue by PNC Bank, and another location that I cannot recall.
In most places, observing four seemingly routine traffic stops over the course of a month wouldn’t be a big deal. In fact, from the entrance to my job in Somerset County, I saw four at one time this Monday. However, since I started driving nine years ago, Plainfield has continuously been a place where there weren’t many traffic stops.
I heard noises about cracking down on “quality of life” violations a year or so ago. In October, Dan Damon posted about the pedestrian crosswalk operation on South Avenue. Neither of these resulted in noticeable increases in stops on most streets.
Apparently, this recent increase isn’t a figment of my imagination. According to Police Director Carl Riley, the City has been actively responding to citizen complaints about speeding in residential areas. “Traffic enforcement will remain a priority for the Police Division in an effort to help reduce accidents and violations that can cause harm to the residents of the City,” says Riley.
Automated license plate readers in use
Police Director Riley added that the City is using automated license plate readers, implying that these are used to assist with enforcement of speeding rules. Knowing that there are no speeding cameras, I took this to mean enforcement of delinquent registrations, parking tickets, warrants, and stolen cars. In fact, I know someone who had their car towed in Plainfield this fall based on an automated reader presumably mounted onto a police vehicle. This person’s registration was only several days overdue, so be careful.
Automated readers are not only mounted on police cars, but can be placed onto stationary objects like overpasses and signs. As they proliferate (most cities now use them), their use has become more and more controversial. The American Civil Liberties Union has a dedicated page.
The controversy comes from the fact that many cities, even some larger ones, do not have a policy which states how they can be used, which can lead to abuse. In Maryland, only 0.2% of license plates were hits of any sort, and only 47 of every million license plates scanned were associated with something more serious, like a stolen vehicle or person with a warrant. The ACLU asks, what happens to all the rest of that data, and what are the controls and policies that govern its use? You can read the full, relatively brief report here.