Friday, March 23, 2012

Reduction in federal pork one cause of reduced Texas traffic tickets

A commenter on the last Grits post suggested that a key reason the number of traffic tickets written by Texas police went down last year in Austin and elsewhere may have been cuts to the "Selective Traffic Enforcement Program" (STEP), which are federal pass-through grants distributed to law enforcement through the Texas Department of Transportation to pay for overtime devoted to traffic enforcement. And indeed, that may partially, but not fully, explain the recent decline in traffic tickets written by Texas police.

Searching around on TXDOT's website, I found this memo to law enforcement agencies (pdf) from April 2011 detailing 30% cuts to STEP grants - from $20.2 million to $14.2 million statewide - with a table at the end showing how much each department's grants were cut.

Houston, which has seen its number of traffic tickets decline, lost $360,000 with the reduction in STEP grant funds; Dallas' grant fell by a like amount. The Department of Public Safety took the biggest hit with a $424,521 reduction.

Austin lost about $158,000 in grant funding for overtime with that 30% reduction - not chump change, but not remotely enough to account for the 26% reduction in tickets they recorded in 2011. Austin PD says it wrote fewer tickets because of a policy change - "because the Highway Enforcement Command shifted its mission from citywide traffic enforcement to a focus on the major highways such as IH-35, MoPac and 183" - which seems like a more plausible explanation.

Plus, data from the Office of Court Administration showing a statewide decline in tickets processed in municipal court covered the state fiscal year from September to August, so cuts that took effect April 29 wouldn't have impacted most of that year. In other words, there are indications the decline in ticketing a) predated cuts to STEP grants and b) are too large to be completely explained  by them. That's certainly one of several contributing factors, though, and perhaps reason to think the trend might continue in the near term without local traffic enforcement getting artificially pumped up through federal pork.

See related Grits posts:


Daniel Simon said...

This is the possible upside to the FEDS going broke and destroying our "money", our economy and our country...the States who suck off the feds like a collection of little piglets sucking at the teats of a sow, don't have the "money" to harass us as much. THE HORROR!

Most of the State harassment and bullying is in order to get "Federal grants" from the "click it or ticket" Nanny week, to things like "STEP" and all the other federal "mandates" in between.

If the feds offered grant money to make sure we all had clean underwear on when we left the house, the little ho's we have in State Government and the armed goons who work for them would be pulling us over willy, nilly and insisting we drop our drawers!

Sadly, the majority would do it, and shake their heads at anyone who refused as not being "law-abiding"!

It would be great if 80% or so of the worthless, lazy State suppressors would stop stepping on the people and step out and get a private sector job where they trade things people want to by to willing purchasers instead of doing "business at the point of a gun" (directly or indirectly).

The remaining 20% could do the very, very few things that are a legitimate function of a Government in a free society.

Jean Val Jean said...

Daniel, perhaps you haven't been paying attention but more police has been a long time rally cry for those seeking elected office, politicians bucking that trend rarely getting elected. As such, those voting have made it clear that they do want to buy more such services, even in Houston with its budget cuts, Mayor Parker using her unwillingness to lay off police as a campaign selling point.

I know Scott and many of his commentators seem to think otherwise given the frequency of op-ed pieces suggesting police are all jack booted thugs, the prison system should be largely dismantled, the death penalty is inherently bad, and all the related causes but frankly, "more cops and more prisons" are favored by those that count to politicians, be it the voters or those that make major campaign contributions. Rather than bellyache to the contrary, push candidates that espouse contrary views and let the chips fall where they may.

Anonymous said...

I read that the Dallas PD Chief said that less tickets have been given because the goal of traffic enforcement is public safety! What a great idea.

The 'municipal courts summary' posted in a previous post was interesting. Now in that, the small town I live in actually increased revenue from 2010 to 2011.

This little town of 1,455 people (seven points) brought in $521,000 in 2011. The amount charged to the motoring public in this town is a lot more than towns with comparable population. Also, Gun Barrel City (right over the bridge) made about 1/3 less with a population of 5,600. Right now I am considering showing the chart to the mayor and asking why the POT HOLES are not fixed around here! Or maybe he can just tell me what they did the 1/2 Million dollars.
Lancaster (pop 36,300) brought in more in 2011 than 2010. We noticed this year they have now added a 'Mobile Command Unit' (it is like a airport shuttle bus with the word "mobile command unit" painted on the side).

One good thing about the economic downturn is that the Federal grants for the traffic depts have been reduced.

Thank you for the link to the municipal courts summary. After looking at it, I think some sort of agency should scrutinize the towns that really stand out regarding the money they get from tickets.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

JVJ, I can't speak to whatever Annise Parker says (what can you say? liberals like unions), but it's the GOP slashing these grant funds in Congress. So as long as Texas keeps supporting a GOP congressional delegation, they're doing their part to keep chipping away at these funds. That's been the D.C. dynamic for 10 years: Bush II wanted to zero out Byrne grant funds, for example, and it was John Kerry, Tom Harkin, Joe Biden et. al., that preserved all the federal law-enforcement pork. (Obama was a Johnny-come-lately on the subject.) The Heritage Foundation, National Taxpayers Union and movement conservatives, by contrast, are generally against federal grants to local law enforcement.

But please, by all means, don't let any facts confuse your assumptions!

Anonymous said...

Step grant reduction is part of it but so are efforts by cities and counties to reduce court overtime costs by any means possible. Prosecutors are told to give time served offers on those arrested for traffic warrants, let violators plead to the non-moving case to dismiss the others, and even Houston instituted a program where the officers were not to come to court until the afternoon, pressuring people to take a plea bargain all morning long.

Some cities have cut back on traffic enforcement officers too, reassigning them to patrol or administrative duties when laying off cheaper costing civilians or reltying on red light cameras to fill the gaps. In any case, true costs of enforcement are being brought to bear on a wide variety of matters, some of them better decisions than others.

I'm not sure what Grits or Jean mean specifically but I agree that the cuts to temporarily boost hiring have been coming from the GOP while neither side will admit culpability on reducing police numbers since most voters want more public safety people, police and fire in particular. Houston spends two thirds of the operating budget on fd/pd now, no real cust made while almost a thousand civilian job spots were laid off or closed.