Wednesday, February 11, 2009

When Crime Pays

Or at least when civil infractions pay -- to the tune of $90,000.00 over a six-month period, according to the Boise City police department. That is, if patrol officers crack down more aggressively on speeders and other traffic offenders. Although the department denies instituting quotas for traffic tickets, it makes no bones about looking at more tickets as a fundraiser.

Now, nobody likes aggressive drivers -- except the aggressive drivers themselves, who don't seem to see anything wrong with what they're doing. I personally loathe tailgaters, and wish some cop would come along and bust the guy riding my ass on the freeway (so far, it's never happened). I also can't stand people who don't know to slow down on icy roads. But this whole business of cracking down on traffic violators for the express purpose of raising money gives rise to some thoughts:

1. Throughout a ten-year legal career, spent doing mostly criminal defense, I have observed a curious phenomenon: few things are as hotly contested as a petty offense. The smaller the potatoes, the bigger the fuss. Over the years, I have had clients worry more about misdemeanor charges than about pending felonies that could land them in prison for a decade or more. I have also spent years listening to prosecutors complain about how vicious people get in traffic court, even though all they're looking at is a small fine, court costs, and points for moving violations.

2. Now that we know pressure is going to be put on patrol officers to write more tickets, will the public be more or less likely to believe that there is no quota, whatever the powers that be in City Hall might say?

3. It is true that police officers have a certain amount of discretion whether to write a ticket in individual cases. This is a good thing that serves the interests of justice and, incidentally, conserves time and resources. But if pressure is to be put on officers to raise more money, will they be more or less likely to exercise their discretion?

4. Is an admission that more tickets will be written in order to raise revenue going to make people more or less likely to just pay the ticket and not fight it?

5. Are there not costs associated with getting police officers to testify in traffic court? Do police officers get overtime pay for court time? Will the revenues collected from fines more than offset these costs?

6. Does everybody who gets a ticket and loses or defaults pay the fines? Is everybody who gets fined deterred from not paying by the fact that their licenses will be suspended? (See the court's huge driving without privileges caseload.)

7. Is the use of traffic tickets expressly to raise revenue more or less likely to foster good overall public relations with the police?

Just asking.

No comments:

Post a Comment