As part of its annual roadway safety campaign, the Cornell University Police Department issued 94 tickets for jaywalking, disobeying traffic signals and biking while wearing both headphones. The campaign this year not only issued tickets, but also emphasized education by circulating flyers and offering warnings. This campaign utilized state resources and targeted what in many cases are harmless and victimless crimes. In light of the increased concerns about campus safety, we question the efficacy of the program.
The annual roadway safety campaign is funded by a $2,170 grant from the New York State Governor’s Traffic Safety Committee. Because of this grant, the CUPD was able to carry out the campaign without reallocating other resources. Despite appearances, the CUPD said that it upheld its commitment to regular patrols and work on the recent instances of violence on campus. We question the allocation of these resources from the state government and feel that this grant money could be better spent on programs that target more serious crime.
Even though jaywalking and other traffic violations can be dangerous and increases the risk of accidents and injuries, this grant program does little to change the jaywalking culture and instead makes students feel targeted. Mass ticketing in a concentrated period does not send the message to pedestrians and bicyclists that jaywalking is dangerous and does not make the campus safer in the long term. Cities with diligent ticketing for such infractions generate a culture where jaywalking is abnormal. If the state wishes to create this culture shift, ticketing would need to be consistent. Instead, the campaign only served to cause an uproar and create an antagonistic and reactionary attitude toward the ticketers, whose intentions are presumably to ensure our safety.
The inefficacy of the campaign was heightened this year by its unfortunate timing. Though the CUPD did not divert resources from general campus safety and from addressing specific recent incidents of assault, the campaign created a climate of distrust between the CUPD and students, who were concerned about more pressing issues of campus safety. The highly-publicized push to ticket traffic violators while more serious incidents were occurring only served to underscore the way in which the grant was a poor use of state funds.
We acknowledge that pedestrian and traffic laws serve a purpose, and that enforcing these laws has the potential to lead to safer streets. But the concentrated surge in enforcement is unlikely to cause long-term change. Instead, if the State of New York really wishes to make the state safer, it should reallocate the funds and use them in a way that does not further alienate police officers and the public.
We trust that the grant was given with the intention of improving student safety, but we hope to see the ends met through more efficient means.