Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Seat Belt Enforcement

Public Comment
Asheville City Council
February 20, 2007

Re: Consent Agenda Item C2: "Budget amendment to receive the Preusser Research Grant"

My name is Tim Peck.

As part of the consent agenda, a grant in the amount of $73,000 has been offered to the City of Asheville by a research organization to pay police officers to work the supplemental enforcement activities related to the Night Time Safety Belt Enforcement Project.

That's right: A research organization wants to pay police officers to work. Is this now how the citizens of Asheville can obtain the law enforcement they desire? -- By gathering up substantial contributions to supplement police officer's paychecks?

If I could simply “pass the hat” and collect $73,000 to fund MY pet law enforcement peeves, THEN, for example, would city council become interested in enforcing immigration laws? THEN would city council become interested in enforcing drug trafficking laws in public housing projects?

This budget amendment really smacks of “All the government that money can buy.” And if this is the model for obtaining police protection in Asheville, where does this leave the poor and disadvantaged who cannot rub two nickels together? Has police protection in Asheville really been reduced to a "Pay-To-Play" racket?

Say it ain’t so, council, say it ain’t so.

And I’d like to make one other point: The purported purpose of the Night Time Safety Belt Enforcement Project is that of “increasing safety belt usage through night time safety belt checkpoints.”

While I do believe that seat belts help to prevent traffic deaths and injuries, I also believe that the decision of whether or not to wear a seat belt is MINE and not the governments. It is not the role of government to “create behavior change,” but to protect individual rights; including the right to make poor personal choices. With seat belt enforcement programs, the government becomes a chief VIOLATOR of those rights by using the force of law to prevent victimless personal behavior.

It is clearly the intent of this program to protect people from themselves; rather than have law enforcement perform its PROPER function, which is to protect people from the harms and crimes posed by OTHERS. Changing people’s behavior is the province of persuasive moral instruction and not the iron fist of the law.

It is for these reasons that I recommend that city council vote against the budget amendment to accept this payola.

Thank you.



1. My original comments referred to the Preusser Research Group as a private organization. City staff pointed out after my comments that Preusser is acting as a pass-through funding organization for a federal agency. A fact not mentioned in the supporting documentation made available to the public. I have amended my comments to reflect this factual clarification; however, that does not invalidate my basic argument: It is wrong to selectively enforce laws that certain organizations want you to enforce in exchange for funding. Especially if the statistics that result from that selective enforcement further the research conclusions of the grant-seeking organization.

2. Robin Cape objected to my characterization of seat belt violations as a "victimless personal behavior." She rephrased the wording as "victimless crime." I recommend that Ms. Cape consult her dictionary for the definition of victim within the context of criminal activity. To be a victim of crime, one must also have a perpetrator of crime. An individual cannot be both the perpetrator and the victim.