The Investigators: Speed Trap - Money Trap

From time to time here at CBS 19 we hear complaints about speed traps. Some small towns in the area have gotten a bad reputation for using them.

The Investigators put together a plan to look at the tickets and the money they brought in all around East Texas. As cities came back with the numbers we asked for we realized a lot of the complaints we hear are valid--though maybe not as much as they used to be.

"See that's already at 66 right there," Tyler Police Officer James Turner said from inside his Crown Victoria one morning in January.

"That van pulling that trailer," Turner said as he looked through a laser speed detection device before putting the car in gear. "Hold on."

Before we started looking at numbers we wanted to get an idea of what officers look for when they're on speed patrol. Turner has been writing tickets for more than a decade.

"You look like you're headed to do some work today," Turner said to the driver of the van/trailer combination. "Reason you're being stopped, man, your speed's a little fast."

Turner clocked him doing 66 miles per hour in a 50 mile per hour zone.

You might be surprised to learn that Tyler Police are writing fewer tickets than they used to. As recently as two years ago they were handing out close to 14,000 speeding tickets every year. Last year it was less than 11,000.

Turner said the department's efforts at voluntary compliance are paying off.

"You know I try to be fair," he said. "I try to understand people and what they're going through."

We met Ismail Najid while he was dealing with the aftermath of a ticket at the Tyler Municipal Court.

"They should not be as strict as they are on them right now," Najid said. "If you're going ten miles per hour over, I don't think it's a crime."

Najid said he's most frustrated by what he calls "small town speed traps."

"Especially when the speed limits turns for example from like 45 to 35," he said. "And a cop is waiting for you."

Chandler and Brownsboro are back to back on Highway 31, between Athens and Tyler. Both towns have a reputation for being tough on speeders.

"If we or any other city is called a speed trap, obviously people are still breaking the law or we would not be stopping them. Period," Chandler Police Chief Ron Reeves said.

Reeves said that reputation does slow some people down.

"But there are more who really don't care who actually think maybe they can speed and beat the citation," he said.

Chandler is also giving out fewer tickets these days. But compared to Tyler it gives out a lot.

Tyler police wrote about one ticket for every ten people who live there last year. With a total of about 3,500, Chandler police wrote more tickets than the number of people that live there.

"As a city without major crime, we have more complaints of reckless drivers, speeders, people who do not and therefore we concentrate on that," Reeves said. "That's the public safety."

Next door Brownsboro P.D. pushes the ratio even further. Police there wrote about 2,000 tickets last year--with a population that's only half that.

After you get the ticket there's another issue. The money is what gets people really riled up because once you factor in the municipal court and a city budget, a lot of people start believing that there must be some kind of quota system designed to funnel money into the city's coffers.

"I believe that they go out with a goal," Najid said. "I believe they have, every morning when they leave, they make a plan. I need to get this amount of tickets."

"We do not set quotas," Reeves said. "That's a federal offense."

"Quotas do not exist," Turner said. "They're illegal. You can't work under a quota system."

All over East Texas, police departments said the same thing.

"We don't have a quota in Longview on the number of citations," Longview Police Officer Kristie Brian said. "It's officer discretion."

Brian said Longview P.D. encourages its staff to get out and enforce speed. Last year that resulted in a little over 6,600 citations--about one ticket for every 12 people that live in Longview.

"We do studies and things of that sort so that we can identify places that have more speeding so that if we do see a problem in that area we can do more enforcement in that area," Brian said.

The city of Longview raked in about $1.1 million in 2012. Tyler's revenue was just shy of $2 million. And in the small town of Chandler the total was about $367,000 dollars.

"I'm here to protect the people, to serve the people," Reeves said. "I'm not here to make money."

Reeves is quick to point out that none of that money goes into the police department's bank account. Additionally, in Chandler's case, nearly half of it evaporated in the form of a check made out to the state.

Every city has to turn over a large portion of its ticket revenue.

But there's one city that seems to give up a lot of the money it could be taking in. White Oak gave out about 2,000 warnings in 2012. Actual speeding tickets? only 220.

Some of the cities we reached out to for this investigation have not given us the information we asked for. For several of those cities the missing information was limited to annual revenue figures. However, the City of Alto has not given The Investigators any of the information requested.

For more on this investigation, read Kenneth Dean's article in Wednesday's Tyler Morning Telegraph.


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