Way back in the old days, patrol officers were actually encouraged to stop cars.
We were told in no uncertain terms to stop a specified number of cars (usually something higher than 10 per month) for moving traffic violations and, yes, we were even encouraged to stop drivers for what are now described in derogatory terms as "low-level traffic violations." These included the now verboten issues of inoperable headlights and taillights and — prepare yourself — expired tabs.
Yes, I know, what were we thinking? We did allow the unwitting, unpaying tab violator a 10 day pass on their expired tabs before we even stopped them to warn them about the expiration.
I know, how could we, in good conscience, knowingly conduct what is now considered a blatantly racist police practice?
We actually did it without blinking an eye. Prior to the zeitgeist of nearly everything a cop did being racist, we had no idea. The absence of headlights or taillights was easy, even for a rookie, to see after dark — unlike the race of the driver — which we couldn't see.
Upon stopping the car we advised the driver the reason for the stop and asked for a driver's license. In the process, we sometimes detected a drunken driver and made an arrest for that. Many lives were saved from that simple procedure. If the driver was not impaired, he or she was asked to wait in the car while we checked to see if there were any outstanding warrants.
Yes! This used to be a good thing! Taking people off the streets who had not shown up for their day in court and forcing them to appear. I realize now that this was all wrong ...
Or was it?
Not that I am pointing a finger at any particular mayors or City Council members who have forbidden their officers to stop drivers for these "low-level traffic violations," but one of the shooters on Sunday morning's shooting spree on West 7th in St. Paul happened to have an outstanding warrant.
I'm sure some will come up with all sorts of names to call me for saying this — but oftentimes the same people who have outstanding warrants tend to have expired tabs and various equipment problems.
Might this entire horrifying incident have been prevented by the police being allowed to do what used to be part of their job?
I realize that some officers have targeted minority drivers. While totally unacceptable, this has been, at least in the span of my career, the exception rather than the rule. It was and is an issue of hiring, supervision and department culture. All three of these factors have improved and continue to improve, despite the exceptions that end up making headlines.
Richard Greelis, of Bloomington, is a retired police officer.