LAPD's crosswalk crackdown: Don't police have something better to do?

It's hard not to think the LAPD's crosswalk crackdown is less about law and order than revenue enhancement



In a May 11 post on The Times' OpinionLA blog, Ted Rall — a freelance cartoonist whose work appears regularly in The Times — described an incident in which he was stopped for jaywalking on Melrose Avenue in 2001. Rall said he was thrown up against a wall, handcuffed and roughed up by an LAPD motorcycle policeman who also threw his driver's license into the sewer. Rall also wrote that dozens of onlookers shouted in protest at the officer's conduct.

Since then, the Los Angeles Police Department has provided records about the incident, including a complaint Rall filed at the time. An audiotape of the encounter recorded by the police officer does not back up Rall's assertions; it gives no indication that there was physical violence of any sort by the policeman or that Rall's license was thrown into the sewer or that he was handcuffed. Nor is there any evidence on the recording of a crowd of shouting onlookers.

In Rall's initial complaint to the LAPD, he describes the incident without mentioning any physical violence or handcuffing but says that the police officer was "belligerent and hostile" and that he threw Rall's license into the "gutter." The tape depicts a polite interaction.

In addition, Rall wrote in his blog post that the LAPD dismissed his complaint without ever contacting him. Department records show that internal affairs investigators made repeated attempts to contact Rall, without success.

Asked to explain these inconsistencies, Rall said he stands by his blog post.

As to why he didn't mention any physical abuse in his letter to the LAPD in 2001, Rall said he didn't want to make an enemy of the department, in part because he hosted a local radio talk show at the time. After listening to the tape, Rall noted that it was of poor quality and contained inaudible segments.

However, the recording and other evidence provided by the LAPD raise serious questions about the accuracy of Rall's blog post. Based on this, the piece should not have been published.

Rall's future work will not appear in The Times.

The Los Angeles Times is a trusted source of news because of the quality and integrity of the work its journalists do. This is a reminder of the need to remain vigilant about what we publish.

—Nicholas Goldberg

Editor of the Editorial Pages


This one is personal.

Just over 10 years ago, I was ticketed – and handcuffed – for an alleged pedestrian violation while crossing Melrose Avenue. Ironically, this was one of the rare times that I was innocent of even jaywalking, something I do every day.

Anyway, I had done everything right. I waited for the green "walking man" signal before stepping off the curb. I walked between the crosswalk lines. I got across the street just as the flashing red signal began.

All of a sudden, a motorcycle officer zoomed over, threw me up against the wall, slapped on the cuffs, roughed me up and wrote me a ticket. It was an ugly scene, and in broad daylight it must have looked like one, because within minutes there were a couple of dozen passersby shouting at the cop.

Another motorcycle officer appeared, asked the colleague what the heck he was thinking and ordered him to let me go, which he did. But not before he threw my driver's license into the sewer.

I filed a formal complaint with the Los Angeles Police Department. A few months went by without my hearing anything, so I called to check in. I was told that the complaint was dismissed. They had never notified me.

Stories about the LAPD's current ticketing crackdown against people who enter the crosswalk after the pedestrian crossing signal has begun flashing red and counting down reminded me of my incident. The Times reports that the LAPD has ticketed four times as many pedestrians for this violation in the division that includes downtown than in other areas of the city.

Is this really a worthwhile use of police resources? Two City Council members have asked for data on whether such tickets really improve public safety.

As Times columnist Steve Lopez points out, the price of these tickets – $197 – is wildly out of proportion to the scale of the so-called "offense." Moreover, few Angelenos know that stepping into the crosswalk after the red flash of death starts is against the law.  "Many… think, as I did, that the countdown is there to tell you how much time you have to cross the street," writes Lopez.

Because, you know, it's a countdown. In seconds. If you are familiar with the space-time continuum, and you have crossed the particular street before, you're probably able to judge with a fair degree of accuracy whether you will be able to make it across in time. Why show the countdown if we aren't supposed to use that information?

At a certain point, it's easy to conclude that this is less about pedestrian safety than it is about revenue enhancement. Besides, how safe is the scenario I depict in my cartoon, in which people are racing across intersections at breakneck speed in order to avoid paying nearly $200 in fines?

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