Double standards usually aren’t this obvious.
In most cases, double standards can’t be detected by the naked eye. They usually are subjective, slippery and difficult to document.
This double standard is sitting there in plain view, day after day, thumbing its nose at us.
The first standard: You and I are required to put a license plate on the front of our personal cars and trucks.
The second standard: Akron police officers are not.
At least that’s the conclusion you draw if you spend any time near the Harold K. Stubbs Justice Center on South High Street, headquarters of the 418-member Akron Police Department.
On the streets surrounding that building, Akron’s finest often park their personal rides before hopping into city-owned squad cars. Stroll around the area and you’ll consistently see vehicles bearing only a rear plate.
Now, we can’t document that every car without a front plate belongs to a police officer, even though a high percentage of the vehicles carry Fraternal Order of Police stickers or badges. But some of them surely are. And why aren’t the others being ticketed?
With the exception of the four-legged employees of the K-9 unit, every police officer in the city should be familiar with Section 4503.21 of the Ohio Revised Code:
(A) No person who is the owner or operator of a motor vehicle shall fail to display in plain view on the front and rear of the motor vehicle the distinctive number and registration mark ... furnished by the director of public safety. ...
(B) Whoever violates this section is guilty of a minor misdemeanor.
The law isn’t enforced vigilantly, because police are more concerned — appropriately so — with violations that directly affect public safety. Still, Akron police issued 121 plate citations last year.
In Akron Municipal Court, that will set you back a minimum of $134.
Citizen on patrol
Yet on Monday afternoon, I spotted 16 vehicles without front plates parked within two blocks of the police department.
Among them was a silver Dodge Dakota that not only was missing the front plate, but also had a metal FOP badge mounted over the rear plate in a spot that obscured two of the letters. You couldn’t get that person’s license number without a screwdriver.
A dark red Acura parked on Broadway had a front plate, but an FOP badge completely covered two of the letters on the rear plate. If that driver sped through a school zone, a speed camera wouldn’t catch him.
The obvious question, then, is this: Are the people we hire to enforce our laws above those same laws in their personal lives?
Akron police Chief James Nice says no.
He said he was not aware of the situation, and thanked me for bringing it to his attention.
“I agree that our officers need to comply with the law as we expect others to,” he wrote in an email. “I will look into this and will let you know, as well as make sure — if it is our officers — that it is corrected.”
The chief ran my list of 16 plates and found that “about half” are registered to Akron police.
“I’ll take care of it,” he vowed.
Other states differ
I’m not a fan of the two-plate rule. At least 19 states no longer require two plates, including Michigan, Indiana, Kentucky, West Virginia and Pennsylvania — every last one of our immediate neighbors. Those states are saving a bunch of money and metal, and I haven’t seen a single report about vehicular crime running amok in those places.
Every time an Ohio legislator floats the idea of changing our law, the State Highway Patrol jumps up and down in protest, mainly because the front plate provides a good target for their laser speed guns.
The patrol says removing the front plate would impair law enforcement’s ability to nab criminals and also would create a nighttime hazard because the reflectiveness of the front plate no longer would tip oncoming drivers to a disabled car or a car driving without headlights. Apparently, the folks in Michigan, Indiana, Kentucky, West Virginia and Pennsylvania have much better vision than we do.
But for now, Ohio’s law is what it is, and Akron’s chief has stepped up and done the right thing.
It’s past time for the Ohio House and Senate to do the same.
Bob Dyer can be reached at 330-996-3580 or firstname.lastname@example.org.