Photo by Montgomery County police.

So many drivers don’t yield to pedestrians that catching them is “like shooting fish in a barrel,” a surprised Montgomery County police officer remarked Wednesday.  The police ticketed 72 violators in 2½ hours — one every two minutes — at a single crosswalk on Veirs Mill Road.

The operation, a first for the county, was advertised as a sting.  But it was not very covert.  The police announced in advance that their plainclothes officers would ticket between 11 am and 3 pm while wearing brightly-colored outfits.

Capt. Thomas Didone, head of the police traffic enforcement division, explained the reasoning behind the “sting” to the Patch.  “Officers would typically attempt to enforce that kind of law by driving around a high-traffic area and looking for drivers not following the rules,” he said.  “That’s not very efficient.”

Inefficiency is the least of the problems with this style of law enforcement.  Police who drive all day don’t understand the reality of walking on the county’s roadways.  When you get out of the squad car and join the thousands who cross Veirs Mill every day (it’s among the county’s busiest bus corridors), you suddenly learn that “it’s kind of scary.” 

All of this raises the question: in an increasingly urbanized county, where is the cop on the beat?  Downtown Bethesda throngs with people on weekend evenings, and the police sit in parked squad cars behind rolled-up windows.  If they were on foot, they would have plenty to do — especially in the late evening when drivers often zoom through the emptying streets. 

Foot patrols succeeded in calming downtown Silver Spring after a series of brawls in 2010.  But they ended once the brawls went away.

Street fighting is hardly Montgomery County’s biggest law enforcement problem.  Driver violations of pedestrian rights are ubiquitous, and they do far more harm.  There are as many pedestrian deaths per year in the county as homicides.

Where people walk, we need police on foot. Not just on a few not-so-secret “stings” — Capt. Didone said these operations will continue only through the end of the month — and not just in response to occasional outbreaks of crime. 

Police should be walking every day, in Aspen Hill and Germantown as well as Bethesda and Silver Spring, protecting the rights of pedestrians as a routine element of law enforcement.  Drivers need to understand that they can be ticketed any time they break the law, not just between 11:00 and 3:00 during the month of May.