Opinion

Excessive speeding rockets public safety as prominent political issue

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I’m letting out the dog for the night in our westside home and what do I hear?

Birds? A train? Silence? Fireworks?

No. It’s the roar of an engine. A motorcycle or a car is blasting down the Saginaw Dragstrip … er, Saginaw Street.

This isn’t a one off. It’s night after night, as if the autobahn has been lifted out of Germany and plopped a block from my house.

Lansing Mayor Andy Schor said he hears them blowing down Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, too. The people at the doors Schor is knocking hear the cars and they’re not happy about it. It’s quickly becoming the top issue at the doors.

He’s not alone. Rep. Sarah Anthony, D-Lansing, proposed a bill that would allow cities to hang cameras at intersections to nab the license plates of cars specifically to cut down on “reckless speeding.”

Whether the cars have license plates is a separate matter . The fact is speeding is becoming a political issue in Lansing along with the broader public safety issue and candidates such as Schor are having to respond to it.

“Of the 4,200 doors I’ve knocked, I can probably count on two hands the number of people who told me I need to cut the police,” Schor said. “The people I’m talking to tell me they want more officers. They want to feel safe. This is what they want.”

The COVID lockdowns bottled up a lot of pent-up energy. The Black Lives Matter blowback made police more hesitant to patrol streets. It’s created emboldened aggressive drivers who risk their lives and the lives of others by turning their vehicle into a runaway bullet down some of Lansing’s busiest streets.

The city is putting in traffic circles and speed humps and traffic islands in some spots to “calm the traffic.” Good luck doing that on Cedar or Larch.

It comes to enforcement. Nobody wants to see Black men targeted and harassed by police for a burned-out taillight or not using a turn signal to make a lane change on an empty street. 

The charge “Driving While Black” should be archived into the annals of history as something not to be repeated. Surely, we can all agree on that?

Police patrol streets for a reason, though. They make people think twice about doing something really stupid. Like going 70 in a 35 or casing out a house or driving an un-plated, non-street legal four wheeler on residential street. 

This isn’t anecdotal. An Aug. 20 Lansing Regional Chamber poll of 300 likely Lansing voters showed that a 30.5% plurality listed public safety as their top issue. That’s a change from years past. 

Public safety has always been in the mix — third or fourth, maybe fifth in the list of voter priorities. This year, it’s ranked over the economy, roads, jobs or infrastructure.

Schor recently supported a grant that brought five more officers to the city of Lansing. When he took office, Lansing had 201 officers. Now it’s up to 211. More are being hired to replace expected retirements as under-appreciated law enforcement check out earlier for retirement.

“Defund the police” sounded good after we watched Derek Chauvin choke the life out of George Floyd. A year removed from that? Face it, we’re all interested in No. 1 and don’t you feel a little better when a police car rolls through your neighborhood street every once in a while?

Clearly, money needs to go to address the root causes of crime. Homelessness. Poverty. Mental illness. Idle time. Lack of recreational programs.

A concentrated effort needs to divert the energy of over-rambunctious youth to something more positive. Adequate mental health services has been unattainable for far too long. 

But any decrease in patrols need to come naturally … because we don’t need the police presence.

Political figures who argue the contrary may be walking a rough road.

(Kyle Melinn of the Capitol news service MIRS may be emailed at melinnky@gmail.com.)

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