A staggering majority of the pedestrians who received citations in Florida for “crossing the street improperly” were ticketed in error, according to a recent investigation, which revealed that an alarming number of Florida Police officers don’t seem to know the law—and the citizens are the ones who are paying for it.
Florida statute 316.130(11) states that “Between adjacent intersections at which traffic control signals are in operation, pedestrians shall not cross at any place except in a marked crosswalk.” While it may seem simple enough, an investigation looking at the citations issued in four major counties between 2012 and 2017 found that the officers involved routinely make mistakes.
The summary of the study conducted by Times-Union and ProPublica found that officers “routinely write tickets for people crossing the street in places that are not in between intersections with traffic lights.” Because of the errors made by police, innocent citizens were not only facing a simple fine for the citation, but they were also at risk of losing their drives licenses and damaging their credit ratings.
The erroneous tickets stretch across major counties in the state. The study found that 56 percent of the nearly 650 crosswalk tickets issued in Orange County were given in error; the number was even higher in Broward County at 70 percent of the 3,300 crosswalk tickets; and they reached a staggering high in Hillsborough County at 80 percent of the more than 500 crosswalk tickets.
“I think it’s an absolute travesty that we have law enforcement that are giving out erroneous tickets, and don’t have a firm grasp of the law. You should at least have an understanding of the statute that you’re using to create consequences in people’s lives,” Melba Pearson, deputy director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, told ProPublica.
The results of this study come one month after an investigation from the Times-Union and ProPublica looking at hundreds of erroneous crosswalk tickets that had been issued in Duval County in recent years, revealed that although Africans Americans made up less than one-fourth of the population in several counties, they received nearly half of the crosswalk tickets.
“The examination of ticket data in Duval County showed that blacks were over-represented in all categories of pedestrian tickets—from jay walking to walking on the wrong side of the road. The analysis of the crosswalk statute data shows that blacks were similarly over-represented in all four counties examined.
In Hillsborough, blacks make up 18 percent of the population, but received 43 percent of the bad tickets, according to our data analysis. In Orange County, where 23 percent of the population is black, blacks were issued 40 percent of the bad tickets. In Miami-Dade, black residents are 16 percent of the population, but received 29 percent of the flawed tickets. And in Broward, 61 percent of the bad tickets went to blacks, who make up just 30 percent of population.”
While some law enforcement agencies told ProPublica that their officers used crosswalk tickets as a way to stop and question people they suspected of criminal activity, it should also be noted that several of the officers who attempt to issue the tickets, or to find out more information about the individuals they believed were suspects, have also been accused on excessive force.
The Free Thought Project has documented several of these cases, which include a man who was tackled to the ground and beaten by police in Millville, New Jersey; a man who was beaten, stripped naked and mocked by police in Del Paso Heights, California; and a teenager who was tackled and choked to the ground by police in Fresno, California. All of these cases have one thing in common—the safety of the subject who was allegedly crossing the street improperly was used as an excuse by officers who then threatened the subject’s safety by using excessive force.