By Corpus Christi Caller-Times
Police Chief Mike Markle is right: There is a culture of bad behavior among drivers in Corpus Christi and it needs to change.
The question is how to change it. Traditional policing, which Markle’s department has been doing, is part of the solution. But it isn’t nearly enough. If it were, the problem would be solved. Speed traps have been done before.
A highly visible patrol car changes driving behavior only in its vicinity, and only for the temporary time it’s there being seen. Same goes for the motorcycle officers who are so deviously adept at hiding in plain sight until it’s too late for a speeder to slow down. The effects of receiving a speeding ticket wear off eventually, and the recipient is back to his or her old ways.
So, the challenge for Markle is how to use his resources to go beyond the traditional punitive deterrent, to re-educate drivers to be less discourteous. Drilling down to the core problem would be a good start. The problem is not simply that people drive too fast and run stop signs and red lights. Those are symptoms. The illness is discourtesy born of a disregard for one’s own and others’ safety.
The problem is easy to see. Just watch how drivers approach the bottlenecks caused by street reconstruction projects throughout the city. Two vivid examples are at Shoreline Boulevard near the Emerald Beach Hotel and the one-way traffic on Santa Fe toward the Ayers Street intersection. Drivers who know full well that they will have to merge into a single lane, because they travel that way daily, barrel down the other lane past the drivers who already merged, then play a dangerous game of chicken to sandwich their vehicles into the next lane where the two lanes taper into one.
We’d say that it takes a special kind of recklessness and disregard for others to drive like that. But, unfortunately, it’s not all that special. Drivers by the hundreds do it daily in Corpus Christi. Again, speeding is only a symptom. The willingness to endanger self and others to shave a few seconds off a car trip is the culture that needs to change.
Markle’s challenge is bigger than traditional policing and he needs to recognize and respond to it, with the resources he controls and the ones he can enlist. We don’t know exactly how police officers should go about being ambassadors of courteous driving habits. But that’s the real challenge Markle must meet in this complex, modern world.
The role of police officer, and chief, shouldn’t be so narrow that it applies only to traditional enforcement. For example, a police chief’s opinions about road design should count for something. Markle isn’t a licensed civil engineer, but he’s stuck with enforcement on roads whose design makes drivers feel comfortable going 20 mph or more over the speed limit.
Those speed-inducing roadways tie together a city whose population density per square mile is, to say the least, loose. We’re a sprawling city. Its drivers travel long distances within the city limits. It’s understandable that they’d want to compress the time it takes.
We’re not saying don’t run speed traps. We’re just asking what else the police department will do to solve a problem that speed traps have never solved except in small communities with earned reputations for being speed traps. Let’s assume we don’t want to be that kind of community. Let’s also assume that the answer to our question is, by necessity, likely to expand the job description of police chief and officer, for the better. Let’s assume that Markle and his officers are up to it.