If you want to avoid getting a speeding ticket in Breckenridge, police chief Dennis McLaughlin has some simple advice: check Facebook. There, on the Breckenridge Police Department’s page, @breckpolice, you’ll see when and where officers will be checking drivers’ speeds with radar guns.
It may come as a surprise that a police department would publicize the locations and timing of its own speed traps, but for chief McLaughlin the very idea of cops setting a “trap” for drivers is flawed.
“We don’t usually use the term ‘trap’ in law enforcement,” he said. “We’re just trying to get people to voluntarily comply with the law, not just write tickets and send people to jail.”
The suspicion that cops are writing tickets just to help balance their books isn’t new, but it’s gained currency since a Justice Department inquiry last year found that the police department of Ferguson, Missouri was plundering the poor, mostly black community by excessively issuing fines for petty traffic violations.
While Ferguson was an extreme case that also involved the collusion of city employees, accusations of “policing for profit” have sprung up in jurisdictions across the country. In a comment on one of Breck PD’s traffic enforcement posts, a Vail-area man expressed suspicion that the Vail police were exploiting residents with predatory traffic enforcement.
But if you get pulled over for speeding in Breck, you’ve got no one to blame but yourself: Chief McLaughlin has been posting when and where his officers will be making stops since shortly after he became Breck’s top cop in October 2014. According to Colleen Goettelman, the department’s public information officer, Breck PD’s Facebook page went from around 250 Likes to more than 500 in just a few months after the posts began. (It now has more than 1,800 Likes).
For McLaughlin, this is a win-win: the posts encourage people to follow BPD’s Facebook page, which makes it a more effective tool for warning residents about hazards or soliciting their help in a case.