BRISTOL, Tenn. (WJHL) - A fired Bristol, Tennessee, police officer says his former department is pressuring officers to write window tint tickets and he doesn’t understand why.
“I like to enforce things that involve public safety,” Phil Kiersnowski said. “In my opinion, window tint is not public safety. I would much rather stop someone for speeding, running red lights, something that endangers other people as opposed to modifying their own vehicle.”
The City of Bristol fired Kiersnowski after he pulled over a state senator’s daughter, covered his microphone and urged her to get her dad involved to try and change the police department’s window tint enforcement policy.
Citation records show window tint violations are the second most ticketed traffic offense in Bristol since August. The more than 350 citations during that time are second only to speeding offenses, according to records. Those numbers do not include parking citations.
Chief Blaine Wade said the police department’s emphasis on window tint violations is one of several directed traffic enforcement safety initiatives.
“It is a traffic safety issue and an officer safety issue,” the chief said. “If someone cannot see from their windows when pulling out of an intersection, a right angle traffic accident can occur easily. This is similar to someone not scraping the ice off of their windows during the cold weather season, which is now something the officers are looking for. It is also an officer safety concern for the officers not being able to see someone’s hands when a car is pulled over. If officers cannot see the hands of the occupants, the officer could have a weapon pointed at them.”
During the traffic stop involving Sen. Jon Lundberg’s daughter, Kiersnowski repeatedly said administration was pushing window tint tickets. He later told WJHL he doesn’t understand why administrators are pressuring officers to focus on window tint.
“I couldn’t tell you,” Kiersnowski said. “I don’t know why they chose window tint over anything else. A lot of us didn’t agree with how the department was handling window tint. They made it a monthly focus.”
Sen. Lundberg questions the policy too. He talked to the chief after Kiersnowski pulled over his daughter.
“You have speeders, which are clearly an issue, drunk drivers, we have an opioid crisis, an unsolved murder from Wal-Mart and we’re worried about window tints,” Sen. Lundberg said as he shrugged.
Teddy Hill is the co-owner of Fresh Customs. He says now that officers are cracking down on window tinting, his shop is even busier than usual removing illegal tint from cars stopped by police.
“I think it’s kind of silly,” he said of the stepped up enforcement.
He says in recent weeks police even stopped by to warn him and other tinting businesses they could face fines too for installing illegal tint.
“I’ve watched them right here at this school zone wait for people to come out of the school and just picking them off left and right,” Hill said.
With some exceptions, state law says window tint can only block 65 percent of the light. Opponents of the law argue window tints’ benefits include blocking heat and protecting the inside of a car.
Bristol police started publicly addressing its increased window tint enforcement almost two years ago, but city records show tickets started increasing significantly in August of this year.
Hill says the focus is impacting more than just those breaking the law.
“Even people that have tint exempt stickers, they’ve still been pulling over until they see that sticker,” he said.
Cody Calvert says he’s complained to the chief about that issue. According to Calvert, despite a tint medical exemption sticker approved by his doctor for light sensitivity, Bristol police have pulled him over roughly two dozen times over the last year.
“I was actually pulled over Friday,” Calvert said. “I have my paperwork hanging out the door when they walk out. (It’s annoying) especially being pulled over by the same officer twice in less than 24 hours. The second time he wanted to laugh about it and I’ve had my kids about 80% of the time I’ve been pulled over.”
Chief Wade said the judge typically dismisses tint citations when people show proof they’ve brought their windows into compliance. The clerk said in those cases, the city generally does not collect court costs.
Chief Wade said the agency’s directed traffic enforcement currently includes distracted driving, texting while driving, window tint opacity and speeding and stop sign violations on certain streets and intersections.