By MARIAH SPRIGGLE
Have you ever considered yourself a victim of police profiling or felt that you were given a ticket rather than a warning for reasons that seemed discriminatory? What about for the type of car you were driving? Some car enthusiasts, or individuals who drive what some would describe as nicer, sportier vehicles, believe that they are sometimes singled out over other drivers or issued a ticket over a warning simply because of the type of car they’re driving.
Scott Belanger is a 26-year-old electrical engineer for Warner Robins Air Force Base in Warner Robins, Ga. He expresses a great deal of pride in his squeaky clean, white Pontiac G8 GT. He also has another vehicle that others might not find as impressive, but it saves him money on gas and keeps his G8 safe from the rain when he has somewhere to be.
Belanger’s second vehicle is a ‘97 Ford Ranger. That’s the same type of vehicle he drove before purchasing his G8. He said he has definitely noticed a difference in his interactions with police during traffic stops depending on which vehicle he was driving at the time, believing he isn’t as lucky when driving his G8.
“I’ve only been pulled over twice in my G8, and I’ve received a ticket both times,” Belanger said.
In regards to his ranger…
“I have been pulled over for speeding in it three times and received a ticket once.”
What is it about Belanger’s G8 that might give him reason to think he’s being profiled for the car he’s driving?
“Loud exhaust, high horsepower, it doesn’t look like anything else on the roads. It’s always clean and has an aggressive stance,” he said.
Cobb County Police Officer Bryan Leonardy shared his professional opinion on profiling people for the types of vehicles they’re driving.
“In order to pull someone over, an officer has to have something called probable cause,” said Leonardy. Probable cause basically says that a crime has probably occurred and the person we are citing is probably the one who committed it. This is simple when it comes to traffic stops because we typically witness the crime. Speeding, failure to maintain lane, improper turn, inoperable headlight, etc.
“The type of car that someone is driving is irrelevant if there is no violation,” Leonardy continued. “It may be true that people who drive faster and newer cars tend to speed more often, but we can only stop cars that are actually speeding, not ones that have more potential to speed. You are either speeding or not speeding, regardless of what type of car they are driving.”
Police profiling has been an issue for quite some time and it probably will continue to be, whether it’s actually occurring or not. For those in Cobb County, Leonardy gives little reassurance.
“Profiling is wrong and not what we are trained to do. I do not know any officers who treat people differently based on how much money they have or what kind of car they drive,” Leonardy said. “The officers that I work with treat everyone with respect in the course of our investigations.”
As for Belanger, while he believes officers are more likely to administer a ticket to a driver in a nicer vehicle because of the income it might portray, he realizes that not all officers are the same.
“I think a lot of this comes down to the officer and the type of person they are and how they were trained,” Belanger said. “I think officers should be trained properly and be consistent with their judgment.”