Sunday, December 04, 2016

Municipal court revenue stayed high though traffic tickets, warrants, plummeted

Grits has remarked in the past that the number of traffic tickets given by Texas law enforcement has precipitously dropped in recent years. Nobody knows for sure the reasons for these reductions in tickets and warrants, though the Austin Statesman has published the most thorough exploration of the topic. But I should have also considered that the number of arrest warrants for Class C misdmeanors has concomitantly declined. A check of Office of Court Administration data this morning confirmed that hunch.

In FY 2015, municipal courts issued 1.738 million arrest warrants for Class C misdemeanors, roughly the same as FY 20142 1.731 million and a few more than the 1.667 million in 2013. But check out the totals for the years before that:
2012: 1.871 million
2011: 2.870 million
2010: 2.754 million
2009: 2.708 million
2008: 2.534 million
2007: 2.375 million
2006: 2.046 million
2005: 2.290 million
2004: 2.100 million
However, another bit of datum I noticed was counterintuitive: Revenues from municipal courts did NOT decline as rapidly as the number of warrants issued. The number of Class C arrest warrants dropped 42 percent from 2011 to 2013, for example, rising slightly thereafter. Revenue from municipal courts, however, only dropped 3.1 percent from 2011 to 2013. Even by 2015, municipal court revenue had only dropped 7 percent, though the reductions in ticketing had been in place for several years.

One could hypothesize a number of explanations for that outcome, but it's hard to be sure from the information in the above sources. Maybe it means more money was extracted per arrest warrant even as the total warrants declined. Maybe it means the reduction in traffic tickets and warrants somehow caused more defendants to successfully complete their payment terms. Hard to tell from the information available, even if a cynic's suspicions might be raised. So make of that anomaly what you will.

One thing this does show us is that limiting municipal judges' ability to issue arrest warrants or empowering them to waive fees instead of issue warrants won't necessarily result in a big revenue hit. When arrest warrant totals declined over the last few years by steep margins, the resulting revenue drop empirically was (to me) surprisingly small.


philip sanders said...

What would happen if more courts gave amnesty weekly, not to mention J P Courts. Why is this not happening Follow who gains like it is. Phil Sanders

Closet Trump Voter said...

Fewer tickets, but they bleed people for the same money. Why am I not surprised!

Anonymous said...

The first thing that comes to mind is that when officers write fewer tickets, for whatever reasons, they tend to focus on the more expensive stuff. This might mean pulling someone over for a taillight but only writing them for the lack of insurance or letting the motorist slide on the expired sticker when writing the speeding ticket/stop sign. The fines for those bigger offenses tend to be much larger and when the cheaper offense is not written, there is nothing for the defendant to bargain with, the larger cities long having established a method of trading offenses to move a municipal court docket. With hundreds of early retirements in Dallas and the continuing levels of de-policing in Houston, it is easy to see why fewer tickets are written statewide but the above is merely one suggestion regarding the money portion.

philip sanders said...

Flexibility in fines for many would help resolve many cases for lower income people struggeling. Standard fines should be flexible for many of them
Philip Sanders

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Not just Houston and Dallas, 4:03. Everywhere. And not associated with decreased force levels, either. This was a major short-term drop. You should read the Statesman story.

Anonymous said...

Grits, this is 4:03. I had read the story in question before I saw your take on things. I was merely adding a personal observation from the two large cities I have had dealings with. Houston has a long history where very few officers write the bulk of tickets, decreases in those units having a disproportionate impact on total numbers. Dallas has had a similar shift in priorities in recent years that you may not be aware of, but in both places, officers have been increasingly willing to let certain violations go but not others. While these are anecdotal observations, given the greater impact on stats by a small number of officers, it merits inclusion in the discussion.


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