When minor traffic stops result in more than 100 criminal charges being filed, all in a two-week period, no other proof is necessary to demonstrate the effectiveness of a zero-tolerance policy for fighting crime.
"The uniform division is doing a great job," Youngstown Police Chief Robert Bush told The Vindicator recently. "They're getting guns and drugs and other contraband off the streets." The newspaper had analyzed police reports for a period starting Feb. 18 and ending March 4 and what the reporter found is that a simple traffic violation can become a veritable criminal gold mine.
No, the city of Youngstown isn't involved in any type of entrapment campaign. Rather, police officers are simply enforcing traffic laws. But there is a new twist to such enforcement. Armed with a U.S. Supreme Court ruling, police are using minor traffic violations to stop cars and search the driver. Officers can order a driver and all passengers out of a car, even when they have no reason to suspect danger or wrongdoing. But lest anyone think that Youngstown is a police state in the making, Bush points out that his men and women in blue are well aware of the dangers of a heavy-handed approach to such crime fighting.
As the page one story in Sunday's Vindicator noted, "If Mr. and Mrs. Law-abiding Citizen on their way to a grocery store get pulled over for failing to signal a turn, the officer will issue a warning, Bush said. If, however, the driver doesn't have a valid license, the officer will check further, he said."
Attempted murder warrant
Accompanying the story was a large graphic that provided a sampling of the 100-plus arrests police on routine patrol made under the zero-tolerance push. Here's one that caught our attention: Lexter Williams Jr., 22, of Worthington Street, was a passenger in a car that was stopped after the driver ran a stop sign. After conducting a background check of the occupants, police charged Williams with carrying a concealed weapon, possession of crack cocaine and illegal possession of a weapon based on a prior conviction. Police found out that Williams was wanted on an attempted murder warrant.
When Mayor George M. McKelvey and Bush first announced the zero-tolerance policy, they talked about the need to get a handle on the burgeoning illegal drug trade in the city and the attendant gang warfare that was responsible for the record high homicide rates.
The city police department has joined with other law enforcement agencies, including the FBI, in launching an offensive against drug kingpins and their armies. The campaign is bearing fruit.
But there is still the public perception, especially on the part of honest city residents, that professional criminals have little regard for the law and those sworn to uphold it. That comes through clearly in The Vindicator story on the routine traffic stops.
Law-abiding citizens should not be overly worried about the police department's crack down. If you have a valid driver's license, registration and tags and were simply inattentive while driving, you've nothing to fear. Indeed, the warning will do you good.