Thursday, March 01, 2012

Most larger Texas police departments wrote fewer traffic tickets in 2011

I think we're unraveling a trend here. After the Dallas News reported the surprising news that the number of traffic tickets issued by Dallas PD has dramatically declined, Grits found that tickets statewide have declined as well, or at least those processed in municipal courts. So Charles Kuffner at Off the Kuff looked at Houston's data and found HPD issued 200,000+ fewer tickets in FY 2011 than in 2010, more than a 20% one-year decline. This inspired Grits to compile the number of tickets issued over the last two fiscal years in some of the largest Texas cities and remarkably, the number of new traffic cases in municipal court are dropping nearly across the board:


I'd asked before what might be causing this and now I'm even more curious. These are remarkable numbers considering Texas' population has continued to grow and Texas cities have big budget incentives to write more tickets, not less. And why is San Antonio an outlier? I find the whole situation surprising and puzzling.

Check out your town's numbers if they're not on the list above. See here for FY 2010 data by city, here for FY 2011.

11 comments:

Phelps said...

Is it really out of bounds to think that cops would rather fight crime than collect taxes?

Another story mentioned that departments stopped paying overtime for court testimony, but I think focusing on real crime is probably the cause here.

Humble wife said...

I am not sure in TX, but in NM the money is in the drug task forces. Tickets may have supported new tools of the trade years ago, but the money with the HIDTA program.

A recent roundup in my area brought in many vehicles, over 80 arrests, weapons, drugs, a boat, and I believe maybe a home. Lots of cash was seized too.

rodsmith said...

i can tell you why san antonio is probably diff. It's got that great big air force base for it's new members. So LOTS of ignorant out of towners running around.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Humble wife, Rick Perry actually de-funded all our regional drug task forces in 2006 in the wake of the Tulia scandal.

Some departments still do the same stuff in-house, but we don't have the autonomous, multi-county task forces like you're talking about in New Mexico any longer. I believe we're the only state that has completely eliminated them.

Anonymous said...

Gas prices may have slowed people down or have then driving less. I've driven in San Antonio recently and saw plenty of reasons for higher ticket numbers.

College Cop said...

The issue is complex and it's likely no one real answer. Lots of guesses come to mind.

-The population is getting older. older drivers speed less and take better care of things like registration and inspection stickers.

I honestly think this, coupled with the economy encouraging people to drive less and more people living in cites as opposed to the country and maybe using public transit a bit more is a big factor in all this.

-The Texas LEO population is getting older. I remember a study that suggested older cops write fewer tickets, but I can't find it , will post it when i do.

-The Texas LEO population my be experiencing a cultural shift, while it's getting older, new recruits are coming in from a generation less likely to see themselves as "revenue collectors" for their employer. Young cops drive ticket totals, so this could be related to the point above.

-Also related is the slow down in hiring because of the economy. There are lots of seasons officers looking for work, and fewer departments hiring/smaller academy classes. Like I said, I think older officers tend to write fewer citations.

-A big contributing factor is probably the budget crunches killing overtime.

-Also, because of the rise of intelligence based policing, more cops are working off peak driving times and less traffic in general.

-Some of it may be a bid to improve community relations, people don't like speed traps lol.

Its not just Texas. A google search finds lots of places with fewer tickets being written. Some of it is retaliation for street cops for something or another, some of it is, well, everything else:

http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/inq_ed_board/Fewer-traffic-tickets-mean-less-safe-streets.html

http://articles.nydailynews.com/2011-07-31/news/29852531_1_ticket-fixing-scandal-nypd-s-internal-affairs-bureau-fellow-cops

http://www.live-mtown.com/2011/09/city-shocked-by-mpd-writting-over-18k-fewer-tickets/

http://www.mlive.com/news/saginaw/index.ssf/2012/02/saginaw_county_traffic_tickets.html

http://www.nbcbayarea.com/news/local/SF-Cops-Issuing-Fewer-Traffic-Tickets-126548788.html

http://www.kentucky.com/2011/12/31/2011971/lexington-police-are-writing-fewer.html

In other words, damn if I know.

Because of the nature of my job, I don't write a lot of citations of any type but even when I worked for a small town, the Chief wasn't big in tickets.

DLW said...

One possibility is that, with the loss of the pretext stop doctrine, traffic stops have gone from being about Transportation Code offenses and fine money to an excuse to guess, hunch, profile and stop Citizens in search of a bigger fish. If the officer guesses correctly and finds a crime in progress, they rarely issue a traffic citation for the underlying stop.

john said...

Speak of fishing----the "moving violation" list is enormous and egregious. It allows raising revenue and harassment--anything you want. Now we can have TSA "officers" attacking us, as well.
It's a good thing several generations have been dumbed down to stand down and turn the other cheek an respect ANYTHING that looks like TV "authority."
I'm sick of looking over my shoulder for a cop, when they're never there when folks on cell phones block the road or almost hit me, or when the illegal Mexicans DO hit me.
(I cannot read the double "catcha" things!)

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.

The Phantom Bureaucrat said...

It sure seems like a lot of guesses taking place here. The biggest likelihood for why fewer tickets have been written is the lack of overtime programs funded by the state. I see this in all the surrounding communities as well as my own, the state making cutbacks to various programs such as this.

For the most part, few city and county officers write tickets at all unless they are specifically mandated by department policy, such as for an accident. Given cutbacks in personnel, officers tend to be busy running calls for service or handling administrative paperwork that used to be done by far cheaper (in cost) civilians.

The officers most likely to write tickets are those specifically assigned to traffic details, generally a few percent of officers on large departments and maybe a handful in smaller agencies. Agencies like Houston and Harris County are adopting programs to set court times on the clock instead of paying as much in overtime, the result being that hundreds of hours of time is now spent in court rather than on the street. Other departments have done likewise, the patrol units less likely to write tickets but far, far more likely to deploy traffic stops as a means for discovering other crimes related to drugs and the like.

wrightrichard007 said...

I think the stats here are quite interesting. But why do they not see the correlation between decreasing traffic tickets and safer streets. Its not a bad thing, its a good thing. Thanks.