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Study: Traffic tickets go up when government revenues go down

BY TODD C. FRANKEL, The Southern Wire Services

Monday, January 5, 2009 10:08 PM CST

ST. LOUIS (LEE) -- The economist got a speeding ticket, and it got him thinking about why.

Thomas A. Garrett, an assistant vice president at the St. Louis Federal Reserve, knew he deserved to be ticketed while on vacation in Pennsylvania a few years ago. But, he wondered, are traffic tickets purely about public safety? Or are other factors at play? Many motorists probably have wondered the same thing sitting on a highway shoulder waiting for a citation. But Garrett turned it into a scholarly pursuit. He decided to conduct a study.

What Garrett and a co-author discovered provides yet another reason to hate a recession.

Traffic tickets go up significantly when local government revenue falls, they found. Their study showed for the first time evidence of how ''local governments behave, in part, as though traffic tickets are a revenue tool to help offset periods of fiscal distress.''

No surprise, some ticketed motorists might say. But Garrett and co-author Gary A. Wagner, an economist at the University of Arkansas Little Rock, say they confirmed a connection that seemed to exist only in isolated anecdotes. And they put a number on it: Controlling for other factors, a 1 percentage point drop in local government revenue leads to a roughly .32 percentage point increase in the number of traffic tickets in the following year, a statistically significant connection.

So in the middle of a recession, with almost all cities and counties facing falling sales and property taxes, ''you would expect more traffic tickets,'' Garrett said from his office in downtown St. Louis.

''When things are bad,'' Garrett explained, ''traffic tickets go up.''

The study, entitled ''Red Ink in the Rearview Mirror,'' will be published next month in the Journal of Law and Economics. It examined 14 years of data from 96 North Carolina counties. (Garrett's co-author was living in North Carolina at the time.) In North Carolina, as in many states, ticket fines are retained at the local level. The study authors looked to exclude the distorting effects of traffic enforcement campaigns and county population differences. They tried to take into consideration the effects of police per capita, population density, tourism and median family income.

In fact, they uncovered even more connections between ticket-writing and local economic conditions. If the county unemployment rate went up, so did the number of tickets. ''This suggests that ... the timing of traffic tickets tends to mimic changes in county-wide economic conditions,'' the authors wrote.

Garrett said the study does not dispute that public safety remains at the heart of ticket-writing. But, he said, the study shows that political and economic interests affect how much emphasis is placed on writing tickets. ''It seems quite reasonable to me that city officials communicate to police departments'' the need for more ticket revenue, Garrett said.

The Missouri Police Chiefs Association took issue with the study's findings. Sheldon Lineback, the group's executive director, said examining the connection between government revenues and traffic tickets ''is a very narrow tunnel to look through'' that does not take into account other factors that might lead to more traffic tickets.

''I don't know of any chief that goes out and mandates more tickets,'' Lineback said.

But such incidents do occasionally gain attention. In 2004, the Post-Dispatch uncovered memos written by top police officials in the town of Bel-Ridge threatening officers if they didn't write more tickets. That same year, a Wellston police chief told city leaders that his officers would focus on writing tickets to boost city revenue.

And Garrett's study includes incidents from around the country where city officials made the explicit connection between revenue and traffic tickets.

At the Missouri Municipal League, legislative staff associate Patrick Bonnot said cities suffering from declining revenue would not necessarily look to traffic tickets as ''a way to ease their pain.'' But, Bonnot said, ''the temptation may be there.''

Garrett's ticket study found support from the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, which frequently complains about ticketing campaigns.

''It's no surprise to a trucker that local governments are using (traffic) violations as fundraisers,'' said Norita Taylor, a spokeswoman for the national truckers group, based outside Kansas City.

The National Motorists Association, a drivers' rights group in Wisconsin, also has seen anecdotal evidence that local governments ''have their fingers in that ticket pie,'' said group President Jim Baxter.

In the world of economists, the relationship between traffic tickets and local government budgets is expected - rational, even. It has to do with incentives. Researchers previously have found police make many more drug-related arrests when they are able to retain seized assets.

Also, Garrett said, local governments squeezed for money are under pressure to find new ways of raising new revenue. They cannot raise taxes in a recession. So they look to things such as lottery sales, casino gambling and hotel occupancy taxes. These are ''hidden taxes'' - revenues generated mostly by nonvoters and nonresidents. Traffic tickets fit the bill.

''It is a politically appealing way of generating revenue,'' Garrett said.

And there is no shortage of traffic tickets being handed out. In 2006, 55.6 million traffic and ordinance violation cases were filed across the country, according to the National Center for State Courts. That is an increase of 9 percent from 1997.

But don't expect an economic recovery to slow the traffic stops.

According to Garrett's study, the number of tickets does not go back down when good times return.

:pat:

When approaching a 4-way stop, the vehicle with the biggest tires has the right of way!
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''I don't know of any chief that goes out and mandates more tickets,'' Lineback said."

Ya, it's basically an unwritten rule I would think that any cop would know. As soon as the word comes down from up top that money is running tight and cost needs cut(like maybe police jobs), I think it would be beneficial to any cop to turn up the wick on tickets to bring in revenue? Duh?

With the amount of cars, it's SOOO easy to find plenty that are speeding, running red lights, not signalling intent, blah, blah, blah. I think the only drawback to the whole situation is then the cop must be present at the court to contest it if the driver does. This in turn takes him off the road and unable to right tickets. Kinda a catch 22.

IMG-20180116-202556-655.jpg

Larry

1959 B61 Liv'n Large......................

Charter member of the "MACK PACK"

 

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''I don't know of any chief that goes out and mandates more tickets,'' Lineback said."

Ya, it's basically an unwritten rule I would think that any cop would know. As soon as the word comes down from up top that money is running tight and cost needs cut(like maybe police jobs), I think it would be beneficial to any cop to turn up the wick on tickets to bring in revenue? Duh?

With the amount of cars, it's SOOO easy to find plenty that are speeding, running red lights, not signalling intent, blah, blah, blah. I think the only drawback to the whole situation is then the cop must be present at the court to contest it if the driver does. This in turn takes him off the road and unable to right tickets. Kinda a catch 22.

Imagine if everyone contested every ticket written. Here in NYC the wait is at least a month/month and a half for a court date. If everyone contested it would be years for court dates and the system would melt down. Cops wouldn't bother to show getting many tickets thrown out.

-Thad

What America needs is less bull and more Bulldog!

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Been a cop for 20 years and NEVER heard anything about quotas. In fact, I think they are illegal. The thinking in my department is simply this, we give you a fairly new car with a full tank of gas, A/C, Am/Fm radio, and a ticket book and tell you, we'll see you in 8 hours. Now, after driving around for 8 hours, YOU HAVE TO SEE SOMETHING THAT PEAKS YOUR INTEREST! Somebody has to cross your path who needs to be stopped and investigated. If they get away with a warning or a ride to HQ in handcuffs, well, that's up to you. ATTITUDE always worked for me, be respectful, and you got away with a warning. Cop an attitude, and buddy, I'm looking for things to lock you up for. Not write you a ticket, but arrest you! I still have a soft spot for truckers, and I sometimes take a lost driver right to the shipper's loading dock as a professional courtesy. :MackLogo:

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Been a cop for 20 years and NEVER heard anything about quotas. In fact, I think they are illegal. The thinking in my department is simply this, we give you a fairly new car with a full tank of gas, A/C, Am/Fm radio, and a ticket book and tell you, we'll see you in 8 hours. Now, after driving around for 8 hours, YOU HAVE TO SEE SOMETHING THAT PEAKS YOUR INTEREST! Somebody has to cross your path who needs to be stopped and investigated. If they get away with a warning or a ride to HQ in handcuffs, well, that's up to you. ATTITUDE always worked for me, be respectful, and you got away with a warning. Cop an attitude, and buddy, I'm looking for things to lock you up for. Not write you a ticket, but arrest you! I still have a soft spot for truckers, and I sometimes take a lost driver right to the shipper's loading dock as a professional courtesy. :MackLogo:

It depends where you reside I guess. Here in NYC our wonderful mayor ordered a ticket blitz to close budget gaps. It was of course illegal and against Union rules but somehow it was enforced. The public went ape s&%# and the PBA went as far as take a full page ad in the Daily News and apologize for the illegal ticket blitz, that they had no control over and also please dont blame the cops. What tipped everyone off was a sudden jump in frivilous tickets like a guy who was ticketed $50 for sitting on a milk crate (illegal use of a milk crate). And another one that made the papers was a pregnant woman who could not stand on the subway platform and had to sit on the stairs. She was fined over $100 for loitering in the subway and blocking the stairs. The officer informed her he was under pressure to give out as many tickets as possible, further evidence of a blitz.

Its sick to nickle and dime citizens for petty offences that shouldent even be ticketable. Plenty of better things to look for.

-Thad

What America needs is less bull and more Bulldog!

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I'm not saying there was a "quota", but surely if you were told money was short and cuts were going to be made, you'd read beween the lines and make an effort to enforce the law "a bit more". I stop and talk with my Sheriff buddy when he's lurk'n behind his favorite blind waiting to catch speeders running down this particular 4 lane hill in town. He's very forgiving, but sometimes when the driver becomes irritated, he'll throw the book at them.

There is definitely a black and white difference in attitude in cops. Some are there to help, others are there to flex their muscle(they were picked on at school, their mom didn't hug them enough). I give them all the respect they deserve, as they do a job that for the most part I wouldn't want to.

IMG-20180116-202556-655.jpg

Larry

1959 B61 Liv'n Large......................

Charter member of the "MACK PACK"

 

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