Citizen Safety Enforcement



Being rated as one of the safest cities in America can be boring. What do you do if you’re the police department of such a city? Policing is a 24-hour a day endeavor. Without sufficient crime, time must be filled, and the officers must look busy. After all, they’re America’s finest and it’s their duty to serve and protect.

In this spirit, the police department of one of America’s safest cities, Newton, Massachusetts, needed a way to keep their policing skills sharp. They racked their brains to figure how they could fulfill their mission of combating crime, and they came up with a plan: they would conduct a sting operation. But, it couldn’t be just any sting operation, it had to be consistent with their recent push to get drivers to consider the safety of bicyclists on the road.

Over the summer, the City utilized rotating, flashing safety signs to warn drivers not to kill cyclists on Beacon Street. It appears to have worked well, as there were no reports of cyclist deaths during that time.

Still, something more was needed to enhance the safety of the City’s limited bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure since cars in Newton routinely mow down pedestrians in crosswalks. So, the plan was set. Crosswalk violations would be the target of their newly hatched war on illegal activity.

Secret meetings took place to plan the sting operation. It had to be kept hush-hush for fear that the perpetrators would get wind of it and ruin the sting’s effectiveness.

To begin, locations had to be chosen. The detectives in charge poured over terabytes of data to hone in on the crosswalks where the greatest number of pedestrians had been hit, or nearly hit.

Once the target crosswalks had been selected, they faced a dilemma. How could they nab cars who didn’t yield to pedestrians? Stationing police cars at the crosswalks would be too obvious. The drivers would be tipped off and not engage in their usual pedestrian-flattening behavior.

Many discussions were centered around finding a solution to this problem. At last, they decided to recruit undercover officers from the Boston College Police Department. Of course, this would be more deceptive than using Newton police officers since someone might recognize them as police.

A wardrobe expert was contacted as a consultant to recreate an authentic looking pedestrian — one who wouldn’t arouse suspicion. Some of the crosswalks in question were near the Boston College campus where several students had been hit in the crosswalks while trying to cross the street.

The student population is prized in the Boston area, and not losing students to reckless driving is a priority. Therefore, it was necessary to make the undercover pedestrian resemble an academic as much as possible. Care had to be taken to provide protective gear for the undercover pedestrian, in case a car plowed into him.

Trial runs of the operation were implemented. The undercover pedestrian was trained to cross the street in a precise manner, with the goal of luring unsuspecting drivers into their usual method of accelerating when pedestrians step off of the curb. This driving maneuver is intended to prevent a pedestrian’s forward progress. As any driver knows, if you accelerate fast enough when pedestrians enter a crosswalk, they will retreat out of fear of making contact with your quickening titanic mode of transportation.

To keep this sting operation absolutely top-secret, Newton Police Capt. Howard Mintz told the Newton TAB that the Newton and Boston College police departments would hold a “crosswalk sting” the week of September 12th. He further announced that plain-clothed officers would be at two or three locations in the city — one by Boston College — to see if cars would stop for them at the crosswalks.

Publishing this information online on September 07, 2011, was a good way to ensure the efficacy of the sting operation. After all, if a prior announcement of it was available on the Internet, drivers would undoubtedly be taken by surprise.

As soon as the Newton TAB published news of the planned sting operation, commenters came out of the woodwork. Normally, no one comments on the stories on the Newton TAB’s website (the regulars discuss issues on the blog instead).

The first comment brought up the issue of ticketing cyclists:


I’m all for this, but feel that the crackdown needs to be speed in general. I know that personally, I am very cognizant to crosswalks and when I am stopped and I see someone flying through in the other direction I just slam down on my horn. BUT, I have to say that when I am traveling on my Vespa, as I do through that stretch past Boston College most days, I am ALWAYS at risk of being rear ended when I stop (and almost have been a few times). Mid-block cross walks are especilyy hazardous.

There was a motorcyclist in Wayland who was rear ended in June is just such a scenario. He was stopped behind a car that had stopped at a cross walk and was reared by an 18 year old driver.

I’d like to see Newton put in the blicking lights that Brookline has at their mid-block cross walks. But meanwhile this effort sounds like a good idea. I’m also wondering if the police will also ticket bicyclist who fly through a crosswalk?”

The second comment, reiterating the focus on cyclists was to be expected:

I hope they pull over the bike riders. they are maniacs”

Never mind that the purpose of the sting operation was to crack down on speeding motor vehicles. For some motorists, it’s always necessary to turn the conversation to cyclists and how and why they should be penalized instead of drivers.

Despite the public’s focus on cyclists, the initiatory sting operation was a success. The Newton Police cited 23 drivers for failing to yield in the crosswalk.

The Newton TAB reported on this topic yet again. Not satisfied with announcing the time and location of the sting operation, the Newton Police provided details of how the sting operation worked.

“Newton Police Capt. Howard Mintz said plain-clothed officers and observers were stationed at crosswalks at Beacon and Lincoln Streets from 9 a.m. to lunchtime.

When a car sped past the crosswalk, the observer radioed officers in cruisers who made the stops.

Mintz said citations ranged from $20 to $200. He said one person was issued a criminal complaint for driving with an expired license, and one was arrested for driving with a suspended license – a second offense.

He said the department will hold a similar sting early next month.

‘We will definitely be doing it again, and we will definitely be by BC again,’ he said.”

As promised, the Newton and Boston College police departments teamed up again for another crosswalk sting operation on October 6, 2011. They issued 53 civil infractions and 18 warnings during pedestrian crosswalk stings in four Newton locations.

“A plain-clothed officer form BC served as the pedestrian while a Newton officer observed and radioed ahead to cruisers who made the stops at Beacon Street by BC, Centre Street at Allerton Road, Walnut Street at tiger Drive and Beacon Street at Dalton Road.”

“Capt. Howard Mintz said officers spent four hours on the crosswalk enforcement today.”

Well, it’s a good thing that four hours of police time was spent on crosswalk enforcement. There’s nothing more gratifying than hearing reports of how the officers divide up their law enforcement activities. It makes one feel safer. And, it’s even better to be given the exact location of the sting operations so everyone will know where to look for the undercover pedestrian when they’re out driving. This way, drivers can just run down pedestrians at other crosswalks when no one is looking.

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