Everyone seems to have reservations about the government these days. Between the threat of banning firearms and being overtaxed there is now, more than ever, reason to be untrusting of the government. The largest and most wide-reaching conspiracy doesn’t involve Washington, it’s not a product of the CIA, its much more local than you would ever think. They involve the counties and municipalities in which we live and socialize.
Yes, traffic enforcement and ticket writing are one of the biggest scams, rackets, or whatever you want to call it in America today. Forget all of the “legitimate” reasons you hear for traffic enforcement because most of it is BS. The real reason for writing tickets and the issuance of traffic citations is much more deceptive and self preserving than you could imagine. As a career law enforcement officer on various different levels I learned this first hand.
One thing that I feel the need to clarify before we go any further is the difference between a traffic officer and a patrol officer. In very small departments there may be little, if any difference between the two, but in larger departments there is a significant one. Both are what we refer to in the profession as uniformed officers, but the difference relies in the duties in which each has. Patrol officers for instance answer “calls for service”. They usually patrol a specific assigned area and respond to 911 calls as well as other incidents within the assigned beat. Traffic officers on the other hand do just that. They enforce traffic laws, parking laws, and respond to accidents. Just something I wanted to make people aware.
First of all the only presumption in traffic enforcement is not the presumption that you are innocent but the presumption that you will not appear in court. Most traffic officers issue more citations than they could possibly testify to in court. Therefore the only way they could possibly do this is the presumption that the vast majority of people issued a citation will not take the time or hassle to challenge them but simply take the easy route and just pay the fine. Some studies suggest that less than 5% of drivers issued citations challenge them. That gives traffic enforcement a 95% chance that they will never be questioned about this ticket. When some officers issue more than 100 tickets a month, that officer doesn’t have the time on duty, nor mental capacity to testify to that many tickets. When you do challenge a ticket the real “racket” begins.
As I’ve clearly stated above, most officers presume, hope, or “bank” on the fact that you will not challenge a traffic citation and that you’ll not inconvenience yourself in traffic court. If you are one of the 5% that do, be ready for an experience that is very conducive for the officer and as much a hassle as can possibly be for the defendant. In most jurisdictions you are given a court date and this date is not actually a court date but more or less a deadline in which to pay the fine. When you pay the fine, you are pleading guilty prior to the court date. If you don’t want to pay the fine, a phone number and point of contact is usually provided on the citation. Once you inform the court you want to challenge the citation you are assigned a court date. You will be required to be in the courtroom at that date and sit through the entire day’s court cases until your case is called. Once your name is called you and the issuing officer will be asked to testify before the judge. This is where it gets tricky. First of all, as I stated earlier most officers presume you won’t appear, some even have that presumption after you plead not guilty, so there is a good chance the officer will not be there for the first scheduled court date. I’ve seen some agencies that discipline officers who do not show for court, but the agencies who encourage, or even condone, officers that issue unrealistically numbers know they cannot be at every court appearance. This is where the judge will lose credibility in my opinion. Some judges, not all but most, will ask the clerk to postpone the trial until the officer is available and give you another court date. Remember, an officer writing 100 tickets or more a month doesn’t do so by testifying in court. But what is really unethical on the court’s part is the biased way in which they give the officer a way out for not appearing in court. If a lawyer were to represent someone in the same court, the case would more than likely get dismissed if the officer doesn’t appear and worse if the defendant doesn’t show, at the very least, the court would find you guilty and access the fine PLUS court cost. I have seen some jurisdictions that issue bench warrants for failure to appear in traffic court. Yet the officer gets the unfair benefit of “hey this person is serious about challenging the ticket”, and usually the officer will appear the second date. In extreme cases I have seen officers who will not appear regardless and they just play the percentages, 95% is definitely in the officers’ favor.
Now there are numerous credible stories on the web involving law enforcement agencies, including municipalities, counties, and state agencies instituting quota systems among their traffic enforcement officers but that is not the real travesty. The real travesty involves the direct correlation between revenue and citations. There have been many credible studies that show a direct correlation between the two. It seems when local governments run low on funds, citations increase to generate revenue for the local government. There have been many documented cases where municipalities have relied on citation revenue for approximately 50% of their budget. Randolph, Missouri, a small town not too far from Kansas City, relied on citation revenue for approximately 3/4 of their municipal budget. Even though a law had been passed 15 years prior by the Missouri legislature stating that only 35% of a municipal budget could be generated through citation fines, the small town was targeting out-of-town traffic to fund their city. City and County judges rubber stamp these practices, and condone these unethical policies, with unrealistically high conviction rates.
To make matters even worse, these unethical practices by everyone from the police to government administrators lead to much more serious violations of citizens rights. The traffic stops and citations are used by officers to conduct unlawful searches of persons and vehicles on a routine basis. They use tactics such as intimidation and promises not to issue citations if a search is allowed. Sometimes they threaten to detain motorist for hours until proper warrants are obtained if they refuse or fail to consent to an otherwise unlawful search. What about the DUI/DWI? Police use false premiss to set up DUI checkpoints and arrest motorist with absolutely no probable cause whatsoever. Can you imagine the revenue that DUI’s generate? Now I’m in no way condoning driving while intoxicated, but even worse than that is gross violation of civil rights. In my first few years as a patrol officer, our department had one DUI officer assigned to each precinct. The one assigned to my precinct set the state record for DUIs in a year with around 600. He was recognized and given an award by the department of public safety, but what no one talked about was the fact that how many of those DUIs were dismissed or had a not guilty verdict. But that didn’t matter because it didn’t fit the template.
Now I know a large percentage of the readers will think I crazy, some will think I’m insensitive, and members of MADD think I have my opinions because no one close to me has ever been hurt by a drunk driver. None of that is the case. I think it is imperative that this gross injustice be known to the public. What if everyone who received a citation this year pleaded not guilty? I know it would never happen but if it did it would throw the municipal and county court system into disarray. There should be a distinct standard when issuing a citation. The standard should be that for every citation issued, that officer should be prepared and physically able to testify in court. Today that is just not the case. If you remember anything from this, remember when you are issued a citation it’s not the presumption of innocence but the presumption that you won’t challenge the ticket.
Have a different opinion, think I’m crazy, or want to challenge me, I’ll welcome any and all to debate this anytime.
Just “dos centavos” from The Modern Day Machiavelli.