The Michigan State Police and their
cruisers are an ever-present force along Michigan’s highways,
and residents are accustomed to spotting them under overpasses, on
bridges and behind embankments. For most, the mere sight of one of
these solid blue cruisers proves a startling reminder to slow down.
However, the familiar appearance of some local state units is about
to change. The Ann Arbor News has reported that the Ypsilanti
division will be part of a pilot program to test the effectiveness
of new, low-profile cruisers. While it will certainly prove
effective in nabbing an unfortunate few, this new strategy should
be condemned as highly deceptive. These cars lack the lights,
markings and paint of the traditional cars, save police markings on
the front-passenger side door. The new cars are not intended to be
used while parked curbside; rather they will be used within the
flow of traffic. The intent is to make it more difficult for
motorists to selectively obey traffic laws — only doing so
while in the presence of a marked police vehicle.
Unquestionably, ensuring that traffic laws are consistently
obeyed is important, as automobile accidents remain one of the
leading causes of death nationwide. However, there is a delicate
relationship between the public and the police that must be
maintained. Police units exist to serve the public, and any action
such units take on the public’s behalf should not violate
this relationship. Reducing the visibility of police vehicles to
motorists hardly fits this description. In The Ann Arbor News, Sgt.
Steve Spink of the traffic enforcement division is quoted as
saying, “We want to avoid the public feeling that it’s
a speed trap.” Spink also mentions “we want (the
public) to see what we’re doing, right up front.”
Indeed, the state has made a laudable effort at publicizing the new
cruisers; however, these efforts cannot outweigh the deception
inherent in the act of disguising its police cars. If the state
police are truly intent on being “up front” with the
public, why are they going out of its way to camouflage these new
automobiles to motorists?
Aside from ethical concerns, moving to a more low-profile
vehicle could have practical repercussions as well. While handing
out speeding tickets can be very effective in keeping the streets
safe, the effect of a highly visible police car can also prove
enough to deter all but the most reckless motorist. Furthermore,
the ability to quickly and easily identify a police vehicle can
prove critical in emergency situations.
While it should be expected that officers would use every tool
at their disposal in order to enforce the law, citizens in turn
should expect that police present themselves and conduct their
business in an honest and straightforward manner.