Thursday, December 31, 2015

Traffic enforcement as revenue generation, bullets no substitute for brains, and other stories

Today's a good day. I get to see three of my favorite people and then spend the evening babysitting, which last weekend was a lot of fun. So let's clear the browser tabs with a roundup of items which may merit independent Grits posts but probably won't get them:

Sandra Bland and traffic enforcement as revenue generation
Debbie Nathan suggests that the "real reason" Sandra Bland was locked up is that traffic enforcement has become about revenue generation. Good quotes in the story from the smart-as-a-whip Emily Gerrick at the Texas Fair Defense Project.

Austin criminal justice stories
The Austin Chronicle had a good, local list of top ten criminal justice stories compiled by Chase Hoffberger. You know one of the problems with criminal justice coverage? You have to remember a LOT of names. I can't always remember the names of people I've met, much less the litany that comes at you reading criminal justice coverage. All these were stories I'd tracked, but a couple I had to think, "Which case was that again?" And I follow this stuff more closely than most.

Bullets no substitute for brains
The Dallas News editorial board criticized arming state Attorney General white-collar crime investigators, opining that "turning the fraud police into a heavily armed SWAT-lite seems, on balance, an inefficient allocation of resources. Bullets have their uses but, in this case, are no substitute for brains."

On electronic surveillance
Read an interview from our pal Chris Soghoian, the chief technologist at national ACLU who's testified at several Texas legislative hearings on topics related to electronic surveillance.

Contemplating the limits of forensic testimony
I'd mentioned the other day that European forensic science appears not yet to have engaged in the sort of first-order reconsideration that's going on in the United States and particularly in Texas. So I was interested to see a good story in the Irish Times on the topic titled, "Why forensic evidence may not be as certain as we like to think it is." (H/T: Forensic Forum.)

I must ad-mittimus I didn't know this word
I love my "Word of the Day" email but must admit "mittimus" was a new one on me, and apparently also on the blog's spell checker.


Anonymous said...

In the Real Reason article about Texas revenue generation via traffic enforcement, the author really didn't go into a lot of detail for the other side of the equation, the costs of traffic enforcement. If it had, the conclusions would certainly be placed in new light, one need only look at the core costs of writing, processing, and adjudicating a ticket versus the average revenue a policing agency gets to keep to find relying on tickets for revenue is a fool's game. By this I mean that the true cost of a ticket should include the portion of the officer's salary, his car, gear, and all those needed in support of the ticket being written from beginning to end, including the costs of those jailed for related offenses such as missing court and their upkeep.

In Dallas, I believe the average "revenue" listed in their yearly budget per ticket is around $35, not counting all tickets that were dismissed. Given the overtime rate of the officers required to testify or even the cost of the officer pulled from the street to attend court, adds up mighty fast. In a proper evaluation using business standards, you quickly find out why public safety budgets are so large despite claims of all this revenue generated, even departments like Houston that pay less find that the average ticket yields less from the onset and becomes a financial loss even when you look at the bulk of the lot that a citizen takes defensive driving for. And when the average cop only writes a single ticket or less per shift, the narrative is clear that any enforcement costs far, far more than the alleged profit some claim is the reasoning.

If you remove traffic enforcement as a core service from an officer's responsibilities, even state troopers that are known to write 10 or more per shift, and discard that many of those are merely warnings with no financial consequences on the profit side of the equation but still incur most of the costs, you find that using realistic expenses kills any incentive. You might reduce the number of cops in a budget by eliminating all traffic enforcement and greatly reduce all the costs of court and support personnel as well, finding the average ticket to be a net loss for the agency writing them.

Anonymous said...

You gave us a link to an article that requires you to be a paid subscriber in order to comment on an article complaining about government requiring too many fees.

George said...

I envision a day in the not so distant future where each and every car will be monitored via a wifi signal emitter picked up by cell towers or perhaps designated signal transfer systems along our highways and streets.

Each vehicle will be identified according to who it's registered to and will have it's rate of speed recorded etc., it's possible via camera's inside the vehicle to see who is inside the vehicle, when it was inspected, any possible problems that the vehicles computer is showing.

This would all be enacted into law to "save money and protect us" and billions will go to the private companies that will develop and maintain the system.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

@3:23, that's the private sector imposing a fee this time. Not much is free in this world.

@6:57, it's also worth factoring in that the number of traffic tickets written overall has declined in recent years and nobody precisely knows why. See here, here, and here.

ckikerintulia said...

"bullets no substitute for brains" -- but the people those fraud detectors are investigating may be open carrying, so maybe the investigators need it to. Where can it end?

The Phantom Bureaucrat said...

Anonymous 12/31/2015 06:57:00 PM, I hadn't thought of it like that as I figured most officers wrote a lot more citations than they apparently do. On a lark, I looked at a couple budgets from ten or so years ago and found even with the decline mentioned by Grits, there didn't seem to be a rush to make money from tickets.

Grits, in Houston, the bulk of cites by HPD are written by a tiny fraction of their force. Those are radar task force, traffic enforcement, and truck enforcement officers. They have no formal quota but are expected to stay busy all shift long and do not have a written warning ticket. As priorities changed, their numbers have decreased substantially while they have had increasing amounts of administrative tasks eating portions of their time. Per the city budget, the average officer writes less than a ticket a day, their announced 1200 to 1500 officer shortage requiring choices to be made of running calls for service or writing tickets.

On the flip side was the perpetual witch hunt for officers who made too much money via court overtime, station commanders ordered to identify and have closely monitored any officers making more than a certain amount. This yielded some officers writing tickets with friends that had different court days and others proven statistically to arrest more people, even a few caught in wrongdoing where they would list each other as witnesses when not together. The last group was caught and fired, one killing himself by suicide. The courts were also ordered to place more contested tickets by an officer on fewer dates, the result on their defendants being more resets as their officer would be tied up in other courts on the same day.

I'd like to see a comprehensive financial analysis done on traffic tickets as a revenue source myself, while they clearly aren't a net source of revenue, it might help drive some policy improvements that would benefit all concerned.

Anonymous said...

On your article about Sandra Bland, the SCOTUS decision in Screws v. US has great bearing here and in all similar cases. It seems that no one is looking at this.

Anonymous said...

Shame on Debbie Nathan for slipshod journalism. In the St Louis county metropolitan area, the DoJ identified at least a half-dozen small communities who depend on revenue-generating traffic enforcement. 5 of the six municipalities has Black leadership, including city council and the police chief. Had Sandra Bland simply have been compliant, she would likely have received a 'warning' and would still be alive.