Give vouchers, not tickets
A perfect example of outside-the-box thinking
If we don’t want the West Mesa to be an open dump, make the transfer stations free
By Dan Klein
Most poor people in this country end up trapped in the spider web of the criminal justice system because of very minor infractions that they don’t have the money to pay for. This was the problem with the “broken windows” doctrine. It made everyone in a neighborhood a criminal for every broken window on their house or broken taillight on their car. You didn’t see the Broken Windows doctrine being used in Manhattan or Los Alamos (this is where rich folks live). Broken Windows enforcement efforts were only used in poor neighborhoods where they resulted in less crime. But they also created resentment between good people toward their police.
In places like Ferguson, Missouri, the number one ticket issued was for jay walking. But Ferguson has very few sidewalks. Ferguson is a poor community with a high unemployment rate. Once a person walks on the street (remember there aren’t very many sidewalks) they would get cited by a local police officer for jay walking, and the descent into criminal justice hell would begin. There is no fairness nor equality in the American criminal justice system.
It is well documented that many residents of Ferguson would skip court because they couldn’t pay the fine. Then an arrest warrant would be issued. Then the person would live in fear of the police stopping them and arresting them for the warrant. If they were arrested, the person would end up sitting in jail for days, weeks or months. They would lose their job (if they had one), be evicted and lose their family. All because of a jay walking or some other minor infraction.
How can we fix this? The article I linked to shows that Minnesota police have come up with a solution to at least part of this problem. When a Minnesota police officers sees a car with broken lights, they stop the vehicle, make sure it is not stolen and that the driver is not wanted. Then instead of issuing a ticket for an equipment violation, the officer hands the owner of the vehicle a voucher to get the light fixed!
This is amazing thinking and I wish I would have come up with it. What’s the purpose for stopping the car in the first place? To notify the driver the light is out and get them to fix it. Law enforcement can either screw with this person or they can fix the problem by helping the person pay to fix the problem. Isn’t that what we want from government? Good solutions that don’t cause more problems.
Now if the person is a lawyer, driving their Bentley, I would hope the voucher would not be necessary. Just telling them their headlight is out would be enough. But if the person driving the car is a single mother who is scrambling to feed her kids and pay her rent by working menial jobs, law enforcement should not make her life harder. Government should not make her life harder. Giving her a voucher to get the light fixed is exactly what police officers should be doing.
In Albuquerque and Bernalillo County I would take this one giant step further, into solid waste. Politicians always complain that the West Mesa is an open dumping ground for everyone’s trash. So why not make all the waste transfer stations FREE for residents. If you have a bunch of trash, instead of driving miles onto the west mesa to dump it, just drive to one of the convenient transfer stations and drop it off.
We are continually offering free bus rides, so why not offer free trash dumping? We want our open spaces clean, don’t we? Of course we do. Then this is the way to do it.
The Albuquerque City Council and Bernalillo County Commission should get together and make and agreement that ALL solid waste transfer stations are free to any resident. Once this is agreed to, there should be a strong public information campaign to notify everyone that they don’t have to dump in the mesa, or in the alley, or by the Rio Grande any longer. Why risk getting a hefty fine for dumping when you can take your trash for free to a solid waste transfer station and drop it off.
How do we pay for this? Albuquerque and Bernalillo County already have the tax dollars. For equipment repair they simply need to contract with a place like Pep Boys (which has lots of locations) so the person can easily get their equipment fixed.
This is what government if for. Helping citizens. Keeping our community clean and having cars in good condition on the roads. Let’s get this done now! City council, county commission, ball is in your court.