March 27, 2013

Hard line on seat belt enforcement: Life-saving effort, or quota system?

BY NAOMI SCHALIT AND JOHN CHRISTIE, Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting

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Col. Robert Williams

Contributed photo

"The whole purpose of this initiative is to stop knocking on people's doors at 1 a.m. to tell them someone is dead," he said. "The whole point is to try to keep people alive."

Rep. Mark Dion, a former Cumberland County sheriff who is now a lawyer and the co-chairman of the Legislature's criminal justice committee, said he understands why Williams wants tougher enforcement but said that the appearance of a quota will spell trouble.

"The public just reacts that the quota becomes superior to the goal. Not only that, when you start to back specific numbers, you're really eroding an officer's ability to exercise discretion," Dion said. "I'm sure the colonel is going to get some feedback on this."

However, Savage, whose bill gave police primary enforcement power over seat belt laws, said the state police's ends may justify the means. The former senator said she still remembers vividly the hearing on her bill.

"We had some testimony that was heartbreaking. There just were so many losses of life ... not only a loss of life, but so many people were getting seriously injured and handicapped because of those injuries.

"I don't like to see the state police have numbers to try to meet," Savage said, "but whatever will protect the lives of teenagers, I guess I can accept."

The Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting is a nonpartisan, nonprofit news service based in Hallowell. Email: Web:


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