Monday, February 09, 2009

Dallas County looks to traffic ticket revenue for budget shortfall

The February issue of Car and Driver includes a story describing how many jurisdictions are giving more traffic tickets as a revenue booster during tough financial times:

Some police officers, such as Sgt. Richard Lyons of Trenton, Michigan, say they don’t like being pressured to write more tickets.

“That’s not what I got into law enforcement for—to hand out chintzy tickets,” says Lyons, a 21-year veteran. “Things have changed from when I first started in this job. There was a time when you’d come in, do your job, and go home.

But I’ve never felt pressure to bring revenue to the city like we do now.

“It’s a whole different ball game now,” Lyons says. “They’re trying to use police officers to balance the budget on the backs of drivers, and it’s too bad. The people we count on to support us and help us when we’re on the road are the ones who end up paying the bills, and they’re ticked off about it. We might as well just go door to door and tell people, ‘Slide us $100 now since your 16-year-old is going to end up paying us anyway when he starts driving.’ You can’t blame people for getting upset.”

In Texas, to my mind, we've already taken this strategy about as far as it can go, to the point that, right now, more than 10% of Texas adults have outstanding arrest warrants - mostly for traffic tickets.

Dallas County represents perhaps the most extreme example of this trend in Texas. According to the Dallas News ("Dallas county to vote on withholding vehicle registrations for those who owe fines," Feb. 9), "Unlike most counties, Dallas County gets slightly more than half of its annual revenue from fines and fees. Other counties rely more heavily on property-tax revenue."

Now Dallas plans to step up the pressure on even more on folks who can't or don't pay traffic fines, denying vehicle registration to drivers with outstanding traffic tickets. Again, we're talking about more than 10% of the adult population!

It seems almost unfathomable to me that a majority of county revenue would come from fines and fees. That's an untenable economic arrangement, but I suppose when more than 10% of adults owe fines, there's a deep well to draw from, though it's still crappy public policy.

This plan places revenue generation over public safety, boosting the number of unregistered vehicles on the road just to squeeze more cash out of drivers. Since many people don't pay mainly because traffic fines are so high and they can't afford it, there's little reason to believe everyone will automatically be able to come up with the money just because Dallas County won't register their vehicle.

More likely, more drivers will simply drive unregistered vehicles, which will cause them to accumulate more tickets they can't pay and creating a vicious cycle that makes the situation more chronic and intractable. And since Texas already holds up vehicle registration for drivers without auto insurance, the plan will almost certainly increase the number of uninsured drivers on the road. Just what we need, huh?

Texas cities have virtually no public transportation in most areas (Dallas' DART is well-used where it exists but extremely limited in scope), so essentially if you want to work you must own a car and drive. So people are going to continue to drive whether their vehicle is registered or not, because they have no other choice but unemployment and poverty.

According to my own quick, back of the envelope calculations, if 10% of Dallas drivers have outstanding traffic warrants, that's around 167,500 people. It's absurd to think a problem that large can be resolved by throwing scofflaws into the county jail or denying driving privileges to all of them. This plan seems like a terrible idea.


Anonymous said...

Uh, don't speed...problem solved

Anonymous said...

Speeding isn't always the reason they pull you over. The motorcycle cops look for those tags. Get creative: play "dodge the cop." See a cop, turn and go another direction.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

5:22, if people stopped speeding, Dallas County couldn't pay their bills. They WANT people to speed, otherwise they couldn't cover the county budget.

Anonymous said...

The ONLY good thing about this whole boondoggle story is that it involves Dallas County, and not Harris County

Pat Rogers said...

Here is another potential source of ticket revenue. (At least until its legalized and taxed.)

Legalize Marijuana in 2009-Protect American Children

Anonymous said...

I played "dodge the cop" until I got my car inspected. Did it so long I still want to play even though I don't have to. Seriously, if they just used existing mechanisms (like executing warrants), they wouldn't have to dream up these boutique programs. I agree with Grits. It's ironic that they depend on folks violating the law to cover the budget. Well, that and ordering all departments (including vehicle registration?) to cut their budgets 10%). Again, it will be fun to see if the commissioners cut their own budgets 10%. Do they ever? I'm rambling.

Sue said...

I am wondering if Austin's $153 jaywalking tickets serve the same purpose.

Anonymous said...

hmm, If you spend more than you make, get rid of the waste.. That sounds like a more effective plan. That plan does NOT include firing police just so you have an incredibly huge office pool.

If the city of Dallas were to get back to the basics, get rid of all of the redundant jobs, all jail inmates to do the garbage collection for good time and to work off debt then you would see a better budget.

One HUGE boost would be to limit the salaries of some of the School Board members. The salary is excessive. Yes, Yes, it is 'on par' with other cities of the same size nation wide, but for the garbage education they are pushing, is it really warranted?

Put more of the money into the Fire Department, Police, and Ambulatory services. For too long those that wear suits have gotten paychecks that are far too large.

And to Pat Rogers, although I do not have an issue for those that want to partake in that smoking habit, it is a fallacy to believe that grass will ever be legal and taxed. The government cannot control it, the people can grow it in a window box. The tobacco companies and alcohol companies would fight it, and ofcourse it would show how ineffective our 'war on drugs' really is. To save face, the Government will never allow Marijuana to be legal.

Anonymous said...

To the first poster..."don't speed, problem solved" - not quite.

Two weeks ago I was driving at around 11:30pm when I passed a police car waiting to turn onto the same road. It was near a college campus and I was in a sports car, so I watched my speedo and made sure to go 40mph (the posted limit was 40). The cop follows me for a bit before hitting his lights.

I think to myself, "surely I have a license plate light out, or tail light out", but nope. When he comes to the window, he says I was speeding. I argue with him that I wasn't, but he runs my tags and info and comes back. I basically call him a liar and tell him he is just "fishing", hoping to smell alcohol, dope, find warrants or some other probable cause...I've got enough cop family members and friends to know their game.

Sure enough, after our little verbal spar and my assurance that I would fight a ticket every step of the way, he hands me my papers back and drives off.

The only thing that surprised me was that he didn't make up some BS reason to give me a ticket, knowing it wouldn't stick but just doing it to inconvenience me. According to my cop friends, that's their #1 favorite thing to do to "put someone in their place" when they try to exercise their rights.

Anonymous said...

What is this "don't speed" nonsense? They give you a ticket when they want to...and they pencil-whip the paperwork.

Just because Momma says not to eat dirt...doesn't mean you can't actually eat dirt!

Wake up PEOPLE!

Anonymous said...

I want to see a hundred thousand man march to the courthouse where everyone turns themself in on outstanding warrants en masse. Maybe they could all beg to sit the fine in jail. That would end up costing the county so much money they'd be forced to dismiss all the charges against everyone.

Anonymous said...

2:59, that'd be great, except most don't know about the warrants. I guess the city can't afford to send messages to let folks know there's a warrant out on them. They damn sure can't afford to arrest them. Instead, the late fees just keep building, and building...

Anonymous said...

Folks it is all about the money! It has always been about the money. Even the sex and drug business is all about the money. Without the crimionalization of drugs and prostitution you couldn't give them away! Police officers are now modern day tax collectors. Just see how the tickets sky rocket as the economy dips lower. Anything that happens in government is based on money Dianne White Delisi got the surcharge bill passed to produce a chash cow for Scott & White Hospital in Temple Texas. Scott & White Hospital gets millions from the state ticket surcharges. Her maiden name is White as in Scott & White Hospital. This is only one example of money driving legislation and law enforcement. Get ready to pay folks, I know you were thinking about speeding!


Anonymous said...

I started playing Dodge the Cop on a Moped in San Marcos. I had every alley in the city memorized. I later leaned that my Moped couldn't out run the cop. And since was my third ticket unpaid on that Moped, they took it from me. I didn't care. It was a piece of crap. Then I got a skateboard and did the Michael Jackson crotch grab everytime I scooted past that cop. True story.

Anonymous said...

Westlake TX is a dreadful offender. The Star Telegram describes Westlake as "affluent rural." It has no property taxes, out of misguided political religion.

Westlake supplements its budget from sales taxes with traffic ticket fines. It runs the most notorious speedtrap on Hwy 144. It contracts traffic enforcement out to the Keller police.

Last week I spotted FIVE Keller vehicles playing robber baron; two patrol cars and three motorcycles. One of the patrol cars was hidden off the access road shooting passing cars with a radar gun.

It's a disgrace. Especially since the former mayor was a prosecutor under Henry Wade, and should know better.

Anonymous said...

Typo: I said Hwy 144. I meant Hwy 114

Anonymous said...

A food stamp survey done in Billings MT, (by the Montana DPHHS), showed that 18 of 96 fod stamp applicants said that auto insurance, fines, or DUI costs was a reason for needing food stamps. That equals 70,000 over the last 20 years in Montana.

Many of those with delinquent traffic fines can go on food stamps if they are eligible. Why doesn't Texas find out how many are going on food stamps due to fines, mandatory auto insurance and DUI schools.

Anonymous said...

DWI, the need for car insurance, etc. is not the reason they need food stamps. Somewhere between bad luck and bad choices lies the truth.

Anonymous said...

Mister Grits:

Revenues from Municipal Courts and JP Courts have beeen used by counties and cities for decades, maybe for the history of the world, to balance budgets. Nothing sinister or grassy knollie here. What, pray tell, do you suggest be done when traffic violators do not meet their financial obligations? Should the court send them a valenine with a pardon enclosed?


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