We’re Begging Police Officers to Get Off the Median

By Fiona Asbury, Editor-in-Chief

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Some people have natural suspicions regarding the homeless people found shuffling along the median at Montgomery County intersections. After all, it’s impossible to know whether the sign proclaiming a lost job, previous military service, family to support or a medical condition is in fact telling the truth or what a five dollar bill given through a rolled-down window will fund.

One question that isn’t typically lingering at the back of one’s mind, however, is whether the panhandler camped out along the road is a legitimate homeless person in need of aid, or an undercover police officer, disguising him or herself to catch reckless and distracted drivers off guard. Unfortunately, in Montgomery County, it seems that this question needs to be moved to the forefront.

According to an Oct. 27 WUSA9 article, since the beginning of the school year, the Montgomery County Police Department (MCPD) has been disguising officers as homeless in an attempt to crack down on distracted drivers. Moving around random locations, the “homeless” officer will look out for distracted and reckless drivers to report to other officers located further down the road which helps enforce the hands-free policy for drivers in Montgomery County.

Recently, the “homeless” police were found on River Road in Bethesda, a road often travelled by CHS students. Thus, it is not unlikely that CHS students will encounter this phenomenon if they have not already.

Following the recent tragedies that have resulted from irresponsible driving, there is obviously a need for drivers to take responsibility every time they get behind the wheel, particularly with less experienced teenage drivers. However, in an effort to institute such responsibility, the MCPD has perhaps taken traffic security too far.

CHS students already face an invasion of privacy in the form of speed cameras. Usually hidden behind trees and signs, the sensitive speed cameras can trap student drivers whose morning may have started a bit later than normal, causing them to travel a little too far above the speed limit on their way to school.

According to a Sept. 1 Washington Post article, the speed cameras came into effect in Montgomery County in 2007 and have reduced the urge to drive more than 10 mph above the
speed limit by 59 percent.

While speed cameras have undoubtedly made progress towards preventing fatal crashes caused by speeding, the whole concept is a little Big Brotheresque. It is unsettling to have cameras focused on your license plate as you drive down a road, and receiving a fine in the mail from a camera you didn’t even realize was focused on you is even worse. However, here at CHS, we are used to being watched and have grown accustomed to the Speed Camera Corridors, memorizing the location of each camera and perfecting the art of slowing down just in time.

Now, however, cameras are the least of student’s worries. The police have gone so far as to create an entire production simply for the purpose of deceiving drivers and issuing them citations. A driver should be able to maneuver his car down the road without worrying that every person he sees might be watching him undercover and tracking his driving habits.

Obviously, distracted driving is an issue. According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety website, distracted driving contributes to more than 5,000 traffic fatalities each year.

However, at some point, drivers need to be able to feel as though they have privacy while driving down the road. Rather than constantly assuming the worst in every driver, perhaps drivers can be given more credit and less suspicion. Knowing that he or she is responsible for the lives of others should be reason enough for drivers to stay safe on the road, and such extreme measures should not need to be instituted at all. Rather than feeling as if they are constantly under a microscope, drivers can be held accountable and trusted.

This action by the Police Department will also reflect poorly on the homeless all over Montgomery County. Knowing that a panhandler could either be someone going through a tough time in life or a fraud, drivers are going to be even more suspicious and possibly hostile towards homeless people than they were before.

The predicament of homeless individuals in Montgomery County is not something to be imitated or taken
lightly. As colder weather is approaching, perhaps more should be done to aid these individuals rather than impersonating them.

According to the Montgomery County Coalition for the Homeless, on a given day, 1,250 people experience homelessness in the county, including 325 children.

To these people, the man standing with a sign at the intersection of Goldsboro and River Road is just another one of them, someone who has also fallen on hard times. However, the fact that this man is actually an employed police officer wearing their quandary as a costume only shows them that the county does not take their issues seriously and has made a mockery of them.

Staying safe on the road should be the first priority of every driver on the road, regardless of age. However, we shouldn’t always have to wonder what form Big Brother will be in next, whether it be in the hidden camera detecting any speeds exceeding the limit, or in the form of an innocent looking man braving the cold with a cardboard sign.