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Roadside Debaters May Entertain Themselves but Not CHP Officers

August 11, 1988|JAN HOFMANN | Jan Hofmann is a regular contributor to Orange County Life

So you talked your way out of a traffic ticket, and aren't you feeling smug?

Surprise! Those carefully chosen phrases, that hangdog look you did so well, all your tactics may well have been for naught. Chances are, the officer would probably have let you off anyway, and your brilliant strategy had little to do with it.

So says Officer Ken Daily of the California Highway Patrol's San Juan Capistrano office, not only a veteran officer but an instructor in both traffic school and a training program for mature drivers.

"If you get stopped and you don't get a ticket, it's probably not because you've got a silver tongue," he says. "Where most people feel like they talked their way out of a ticket, there's an element missing in what the officer observed. He may have been sitting in his car writing up a report, and he looked up just as your car whizzed through the intersection. He knows you did it, but he really didn't see it. So he would rather not get up on the stand in that case, because he can't truthfully say he saw the violation."

Daily acknowledges that there are still times when what you say and how you behave can help an officer make up his mind.

He agrees with the suggestions readers made last week: Keep your mouth shut, be courteous and respectful, appear concerned, tell the truth.

"A ticket is designed for education," Daily says. "A lot of people look at it as too many other things, maybe even a form of harassment. But if the officer feels you've learned something from the situation, he's less likely to give you the ticket."

Sgt. X, a 14-year veteran police officer in a central county city who asked that his name not be revealed, says he is more inclined to be lenient "if they're just real reasonable, if it seems genuine in their expression that this is a one-time problem."

In 22 years with the CHP, Daily has seen it all: women who pull their dresses up and flirt unabashedly; men who pass money to the officer along with their driver licenses.

"I had one guy do that with a $20 bill," he says. "So I asked him, 'Is this yours?'

"And he says, 'No, no, it's not mine.' So I threw it into the wind. You should have seen how fast he got out of the car and went after it."

Then there are the name-droppers, those who insist that some of their best friends are cops. "One guy dropped my name to me," Daily says. "I asked him, 'So how do you know Ken Daily?'

"And he said, 'Oh, we go fishing together all the time.' He seemed a little stressed that it didn't seem to make any difference to me. So I printed my name on the ticket so he could read it. That's the only time I've ever done that.

"A lot of people think they're being friendly when they're actually being offensive. It's like putting a price on our integrity. To me, it's kind of an insult to think that I would undermine what I do for $20 or a woman who pulls up her dress."

Of course, some drivers want to argue. There's a right way and a wrong way to do that, Daily says. If you honestly believe the officer has made a mistake, "state your case," Daily says. "But so many of them don't argue about whether they did it, but simply the degree of what they've done. Maybe you clocked them at 70, and they say, 'But I was only going 65.' "

The don't do its? "It's not a good idea to make references to the officer's parenthood," he says. "We get that all the time."

"Intimidation never works with me," Sgt. X says. "Flirting never works. That's an insult. Typically, you'll get people who say, 'Why aren't you out catching someone more dangerous than me?' Well, if you arrest a burglar, he's going to say, 'Why aren't you out catching robbers?' If you arrest a robber, he'll ask why you're not catching rapists, and if you catch a rapist, he'll ask why you're not catching murderers. There's always somebody doing something worse than you are."

Another point to remember, according to both Daily and Sgt. X, is that while you may take a ticket personally, the officer doesn't. It's just part of his job.

"He sees something, he takes the appropriate action," Daily says. "It's no different from if you were working for Wendy's and you made a hamburger. You're just doing your job."

"On the whole, policemen don't like writing traffic tickets," Sgt. X says. "It's not a pleasant chore. It's just a day-to-day task that he has to engage in."

Some drivers insist they shouldn't be ticketed for speeding, for example, because other drivers were going just as fast. "You get people who ask, 'Why did you pick me out of this big herd of 30 or 40 drivers going over the speed limit?' " Daily says.

"But we had to pick somebody. I asked one guy, 'What if all the other drivers went off a cliff. Would you do that too?' And he said, 'Yeah, probably.' "

"They're right," Sgt. X says. "There's no way we can stop everybody. But that doesn't mean we have to stop doing our jobs."

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