Humvees, sedans and SUV's jockey for position at Carrollton and Canal Saturday, working through an intersection where the only presence of traffic signals is a shadow. Photo by Steve Beatty

After driving up South Carrollton Avenue through the major intersections of Claiborne Avenue, Earhart Boulevard and Canal Street, I watched drivers struggle at each four-way stop without traffic signals.

Certainly, the New Orleans Police Department had better things to do in the aftermath of Hurricane Isaac than direct traffic.

Then I found out what they were doing. A three-man unit pulled me over one block later because my car had an expired sticker on my license plate. Seriously?

Before the back-seat officer even approached my car, they’d run the plate and found that it was in fact current. When he got to my window, I explained how I’d lost the registration and the sticker, called the state for a replacement months ago and then promptly forgot about the matter. It was a face-palm moment. (Note to self: Always follow up with the state.)

And what about the lack of a brake tag? the officer asked. Well, yessir, my windshield was replaced last year, and I never went out and got a current tag. My fault completely. No excuse. Shouldn’t have happened. I’ll take care of it directly.

After handing me the traffic ticket for these two offenses, the officer scolded me because his partner on the other side of the car had noticed my iPhone was open to the voice-recording app. Back Seat Cop informed me that I had every right to record the conversation, but he had every right to know he was being recorded.

“No you don’t,” I told him. “It might be a courtesy for me to tell you, but you absolutely don’t have that right.”

I told him that in this state, there’s no requirement that both parties to a conversation be informed of a recording, and that I wasn’t recording it anyway (Not for lack of trying, admittedly; I missed the “record” button as I fumbled for my license).

Besides, I now wonder, is it NOPD policy to tell drivers that the dash-board cameras are running during traffic stops?

I politely asked Back Seat Cop whether NOPD had a plan to start directing traffic at major intersections.

“We just don’t have the manpower,” he said.

What about the National Guard, I asked. Couldn’t they do that?

He allowed as how that might not be a bad idea, but he really didn’t know what the Guard was doing while here.  He said he’d pass my suggestion on to his bosses.

It also might be a good idea for the city to put out some saw horses at intersections.

Back Seat Cop and I ended on a civil note, with him telling me that my ticket could well be dismissed if I showed the judge that I’d taken care of the problems.

I realize the cops are working 12-hour shifts and are dealing with a lot of hot and grumpy people. I was one of them, driving from my house to an Entergy customer-service center to ask about my continued lack of power (As an aside, Entergy really shouldn’t hang a sign at the door that says “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.”)

But if police have gotten to the point where they’re not addressing serious safety concerns such as six-lane intersections without signal lights and instead are making stops for minor traffic violations, maybe it’s time their supervisors let them go home and get some rest.

We could all use it.

Steve Beatty

Steve Beatty is the publisher and chief executive officer of The Lens. He worked as an editor for The Times-Picayune for 15 years, leaving New Orleans just before Katrina to take a position as an editor...