Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Why are Texas cops writing fewer traffic tickets?

A story by Scott Goldstein at the Dallas Morning News ("Dallas police tickets fall by tens of thousands," Feb. 28, behind paywall) opened:
Dallas police issued almost 59,000 fewer tickets last fiscal year than in the previous year, continuing a dramatic decline that could equate to millions of dollars less in city revenue, according to public records.

Police officials in Dallas, as in other cities reporting similar declines, offer several possible explanations for the decline in citations, most of which are generated by traffic stops.

They also emphasize that the number of traffic stops has gone up by tens of thousands, even as the number of tickets has dropped.

“We’re more interested in traffic stops, not necessarily citations,” Dallas Police Assistant Chief Tom Lawrence said. “The issuing of citations to a driver has always been the discretion of the officer, and we continue to be that way. We’re not going to change that.”

Tickets issued dropped by 67,000 in fiscal 2007-08, an additional 43,000 the next year and 18,000 in 2009-10. The total in fiscal 2006-07 was about 479,500, compared with 292,683 last year.

Lawrence said more than half of last year’s decrease is attributable to a 30 percent cut to a grant that financed officer overtime to work traffic enforcement exclusively in specified areas.

Police officials said that the federal grant is funneled through the state and that they did not know why it was cut.

Officers have other possible reasons for the decline in tickets.

Some officers say they are reluctant to write as many because they aren’t getting overtime pay for court appearances and because the citations they do write have gotten increased scrutiny from supervisors after ticket-writing scandals in recent years.

In addition, traffic unit personnel have been assigned recently to crime-fighting initiatives rather than strict traffic enforcement duties.

The decline comes as the city has seen an unprecedented eight straight years of overall crime reduction. For most of that time, the size of the force was steadily rising, thanks to a hiring push.
What's remarkable is not just this year's drop but the overall 39% decline since '06-'07. Wondering if the same trend is occurring statewide, Grits pulled the total number of new, non-parking traffic cases filed in municipal courts in recent years from the Office of Court Administration's annual reports. I was surprised to find that FY 2011 numbers reported represented a remarkable drop of more than 600,000 traffic tickets per year, more than 10%, compared to FY 2008:
Total new non-parking traffic cases filed statewide in Texas municipal courts:
2006: 5,711,966
2007: 5,581,607
2008: 5,749,780
2009: 5,684,813
2010: 5,521,029
2011: 5,148,510
Some police departments - notably Austin's - view traffic stops as their primary anti-crime strategy, particularly in so-called "hotspots," so I was surprised to notice that trend. It has budget implications, certainly, but more importantly, what is causing it? Are police deployment patterns changing, and if so, how and why? Perhaps the price of gas and a depressed economy are just making people drive less, which could make the trend meaningless if the economy picks back up. Perhaps Dallas' remarkable drop explains a disproportionate share of the total. OTOH, perhaps other cities, like Big D, are scaling back traffic enforcement in tight budget times because of limited resources. Or maybe there's something bigger going on, just as we've witnessed a steady drop in index crime rates over the last two decades.

Why are Texas cops writing fewer traffic tickets? What do you think is going on?

27 comments:

jrd said...

Correct me if I'm wrong, but haven't traffic deaths in Texas declined over the same period?

Anonymous said...

There has been more oversight in the spending of revenues generated from this citations. Can't just go spend willy-nilly without having to account for expenditures.
In the past there was no accountability for where or how the money was spent.
Still has a long way to go because self-generated revenue lends itself to expansion. Then when there is no revenue taxpayer gets hit with a tax hike instead of reducing the budget.

Maybe these agencies are getting ready to sock it to the taxpayer?

Anonymous said...

I wonder if they're writing fewer tickets because fewer traffic stops are based on enforcement of traffic laws. State troopers, at least, are pulling people over on freeways primarily to search vehicles, in the hope of uncovering drugs and money. Since most of these stops are pretext stops, they'll either issue a warning or not write any ticket at all, because the basis for the stop was flimsy to begin with. So the focus has shifted from enforcing traffic laws to the much more exciting and potentially lucrative goal of enforcing drug laws.

Anonymous said...

1:19 PM;
I agree to part of your statement concerning traffic stops for minor violations that typically always result in a Written Warning, with the state trooper looking beyond the initial reason for the traffic stop to enforce other violations of the law, but I disagree with your claim that they don't write anything at all, as it is DPS policy that they either issue a ticket or a written warning for any traffic violation resulting in a stop of the violator. I have heard other agencies, whose officers do what you said, but not state troopers. And it is not because the violation was "flimsy", but because it was a minor violation that should not typically result in a ticket in the first place.

Casey Chambless said...

I don't have any statistics to back this theory, but run with it. I, and 1.9 million other Texans, am no longer a licensed driver. As police are quickly learning about the ridiculousness of the Texas DRP Surcharge program I am finding them less inclined to cite me. If I am pulled over for a small violation and they find that my license is suspended, they are aware of the snowball effect that one ticket will have. I have been let go with a warning several times simply because the officer realizes that this ticket may make my life a living hell. This may not be a central driver, but a contributing factor.

Phelps said...

Note that Dallas cops are making more stops, but they are issuing more warnings than tickets. I know I suddenly got a bad rap in the other threads as anti-cop because I, you know, believe in police restraint -- but this is the sort of thing that can bring me straight back to the pro-cop side.

Setting cops against he population as stealth tax collectors fails the most basic of Peel's principles: that the police are the community and the community is the police. It immediately becomes antagonistic and the population doesn't know when they are going to get slapped with a fine simply to pad the city's budget.

Pulling someone over for doing 5 over in a residential neighborhood or having a light out -- and then letting them go with a warning -- builds exactly the sort of community bonds that the APD anonymous shills were destroying in the other threads, while still improving safety by getting people to slow down. Instead of being law enforcment, it goes back to peace keeping.

Phelps said...

By the way, DPD has done an amazing job of cutting the legs out from under property crime over the last decade. I know I'm not the only citizen who doesn't care if they ever write another ticket if they can get rid of all the burglars, robbers and car thieves.

Take the traffic cops, put them on a beat responding to calls, and if someone is violating the traffic code and driving like an ass, have them pull them over and run them for wants and warrants, and let them know that they are driving like an ass.

It may sound a little to Mayberry RDF and boring to guys who wanted to become cops so they could fast rope out of helicopters in black armor, but it's what Dallas has done and it has kicked the hell out of property crime.

Anonymous said...

Fewer cops? Different police priorities?

Aside from speeding and red light violations, cops don't normally issue tickets for much else. Stopping somebody for obscure violations is usually a pretext for DWI or drug offenses. If the driver shows no indication of either of those, they normally just let him go with a warning.

Robert Langham said...

Tyler City Council has Tyler PD writing twice as many as any other city our size in Tyler. They point to it as a revenue source. Oh yeah, then they talk about how it's all about safety.

Anonymous said...

25 + years ago as a rookie police office I received the following sage advice: "For every ticket you write, write at least two warning. That way for each person who thinks your an a**hole, there are at least two people who think your ok!" Maybe police agencies have started to again realize that respect without fine revenue is more valuable than fine revenue and contempt.

Daniel Simon said...

Grits, I suspect it is a lousy economy and people are driving less...and slower. Drive by a PEP boys or other garage and look at all the empty service bays...even ask a mechanic and they will tell you business is way down.

Drive around Austin and look at all the half empty strip malls. Each empty space is a business owner and some employees that have gone under.

A lot of families I know are not even getting the kids a license until 18..and I know several family where two or more members share a car.

Frankly most tickets are just revenue generation and perhaps the cops are realizing just how much these things hit someone just barely hanging on, maybe they are getting a conscience.

Also, I suspect more people are fighting the ticket and even sleeping off the fines.

kherbert said...

I can tell you one reason stops can be going up and tickets down. This summer I paid my registration on time at Krogers in Harris county.

I was pulled over 5 times after I had paid for not being registered. Sometimes it was on some very scary streets to have to get to the side and pull over.

Turns out it takes 45 days for Harris County to get the data from Kroger and put it in the system. So even if I had paid on the 1st of the month there would have been 15 days with my car listed as not being legally registered.

With today's technology it is flat out stupid that the records are not updated nightly.

Anonymous said...

As an officer who has been around long enough to remember the days before cell phones, i can tell you that the cell phone has had an impact on the type and volume of calls for service in my agency.

Admittedly, my evidence is anecdotal, but with almost everyone equipped with a cell phone, we seem to be constantly responding to anonymous "busy body" type calls like debris on the road, kids playing on the street, or dubious "suspicious activity" calls, as Grits was the victim of recently. The worst calls are those complaining about reckless drivers, particularly during rush hour.

Most, if not all of these types of calls are made anonymously and with very little detailed information to go on. In the case of the reckless drivers, the calls probably stem from some type of road rage incident and by the time the call is placed and put up for dispatch, the offender is already long gone.

Taking into account the time spent responding to these calls, along with our other reports from all the others, traffic stops/ticket writing slides down on the list of priorities.

Just two cents from my perspective.

Anonymous said...

Dallas budget crunch has caused a different overtime scheme. It used to be that Dallas muni police (DPD)got paid time and a half for court time when they appeared outside their normal shift.
Now, DPD officers appearing in court receive comp time that they can use as paid vacation, but at regular rates.
To a patrol officer that wants to earn money, not accrue comp time, the new situation isn't worth the trouble; hence more warnings.
The traffic guys work days, mostly, so they can just go to court during their normal shifts. Of course, when they do, they aren't out writing tickets.
And some of the fed grants were cancelled, which are huge ticket-mills that patrol officers would volunteer for.
That, at least, is the talk around the courthouse.

benbshaw said...

You might wan to see if federal funds that reward police work on "traffic safety" have been cut or reduced. In Hays county before Paul Hastings came from Houston o become Sheriff, that department gave no tickets. Then federal money arrived and the policy changed.
Now money funneled to local police from Federal Fusion Centers administered by U.S. Department of Justice have local police looking for "terrorists" under every bed.

john said...

Maybe it's like the post office, where they've already leaned backwards on service, trying to force mo' money, mo' money.
It's amazing to see cops cutting back due to no overtime, wow! It should work; the folks IN power always need to pay their protectors until the bitter end.
I hope it's not them regrouping to detain more of us indefinitely, without due process, as Congress now promotes.
(By the way, I can hardly read these new double 'captcha' things.)

Anonymous said...

Part of the reason for the decrease in traffic tickets is the lack of federal money to fund the STEP Program. "Specific Traffic Enforcement Program" The goal of this program was enforcement of speed, seatbelt, stop sign/red light and DWI laws. The program was federally funded with matching funds from TxDOT. The matching funds from TxDOT were not provided this past Legislative session due to the current budget crisis at the Capitol. Therefore, STEP funds were cut and the STEP programs of many police, sheriff and including DPS were cut.

Anonymous said...

I suspect it may also be related to the increase in ARRESTS at those stops. The surcharge program has increased substantially the number of Driving While License Suspended arrests. If they are then busy booking you into jail; they are not out ticketing others.

jeraous said...

Because most of the tickets are being written to mexicans or hispanics. Most have no insurance, or whatever so texas is losing money. Because the laws or tickets aren't really being enforced. So why write a ticket, when you know you ain't get no money. If you go sit in a traffic court in Texas all you see is mexicans or hispanice, and no money is being exchanged. So basically the officer's time and the court's money is being wasted.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

I got an email from Fred King at Harris County asking a commenter here to contact him. Here's the full text:

I'm the communications manager at the Harris County Tax Office. I'd like to get more info from kherbert who posted a comment about a delay in his auto registration being updated. This was part of the item about traffic stops and tickets and was posted at 2/28/2012 09:49:00 PM.

My office e-mail is fred.king@tax.hctx.net. Office phone is 713 274 8008.

We want to find out what happened.

Thank you,

Anonymous said...

I know the many anti law enforcement types that frequent this site will hate to hear this, but from an officer's point of view; has anyone noticed that most fines for just about any ticketable offense start at $200 plus court cost and quickly go up to $500 for some violations. It is a common subject in many squad rooms that with the economy like it is, in is unpleasant to inflict the financial hardship on hard working souls trying to survive. Although there will always be exceptions, most police officers DO NOT like to write tickets.

Anonymous said...

In Nueces & Aransas County I haven't seen people getting pulled over.


On the other hand there were times I was pulled over because I worked at a strip bar as a bartender (Sundays were especially bad cause the cops were bored) and would be leaving around 3:30 am after closing the bar down and would get pulled over by a batch of cops who were harassing customers also. Of course I got a ticket for no DL which was my fault but the methods the cops treated me....well all I can say internal affairs helped with the harassment of employees and customers.

Anonymous said...

If you can't afford to pay your ticket.....I owed like 800.00. I went and did 24 hours jail time and did 21 hours community service and cleared the ticket. Jail sucks but it was worth it.

Julia said...

Many drivers prefer to do community services or jail time for a few hours instead of paying their tickets...
I don't understand why they do this because there are many ways to beat a traffic ticket....
Anyway in Texan write just a few tickets that means driver there are very careful and try their best to respect the law:) maybe they are afraid of Chuck Norris:))))

I had only one traffic ticket Toronto but I have friends that got over 20 unpaid tickets....they should move to Texas :))

Anonymous said...

sad to say that MANY jails will NOT let you 'lay out' a fine. Of course this is the 'unwritten' rule - they will never admit to it - and only statistics can prove it out. THEY WANT THE MONEY not jail time, which actually costs cities money. Traffic fines and surcharges pad state general fund so Rick Perry can claim we have no state income tax. My son was picked up by Grand Prairie police who drove across Dallas to pick him up on traffic warrants. When he was booked in GP jail, he was released not 12 hours later when they figured out no one was going to bail him out. They turned him out at night with no car, no phone, no money and 50 miles from his home. He lost his job overy it. IT'S ABOUT THE MONEY!

Anonymous said...

this may not be the right blogpost for this, but in Texas it's more about the money than safety. MANY jails will not let you 'lay out' fines. They do not admit that but it is a basic, unwritten tenet. THEY WANT THE MONEY! It pads the state's general fund so that Rick Perry can 'backdoor' a state income tax. Grand Prairie police drove across Dallas and picked up my son on traffic warrants, booked him in their jail, and let him out within a few hours when they found no one was going to bail him out. They released him at night with no phone, no car, no money, 50 miles from his house - basically threw him out on the street. He lost his job over it. IT'S ABOUT THE MONEY!!

Las Vegas traffic school course said...

Economical downtrend along with high gasoline prices are forcing many people to drive less and drive carefully which intern reduce the number of traffic tickets.