Friday, January 9, 2015

The Need For Speed Trap Reform in Texas

I must begin this with saying that I have the utmost respect for our police officers.  For the most-part they are risking their lives and health to protect us from harm.  Police should be held accountable for their actions, but under no circumstance should violence against police be condoned or tolerated.

There are also thousands of deaths on our roads each and every year.  Therefore, there needs to be traffic laws, and those laws need to be enforced.  That is a far cry from local police departments that are designed to bring in revenue for the city, it is these rogue departments that must be reined in.   

Speed traps are something that happens all across the country.  This happens when small police forces rack up huge revenue from traffic citations handed out to unsuspecting out-of-towners.  These are typically set up on a highway that is a major thoroughfare like an interstate or other major highway.  Here tickets can be doled out without fear of reprisal from the voters, and there is a low risk of the citation being fought in court.  If the local police force writes too many tickets to the citizen's from the local community, both the politicians and the police would find themselves out of a job.  So it is the unsuspecting out-of-towner that pays the salary of the police and city staff. You might ask yourself, well how much could a city really make off a speed trap? 

Someone has already answered that question for us, you can find the answer here: 

As you can see, some of our Texas cities make significant revenue off of traffic citations.  For the most part you can't fight whatever you are given a citation for, or least within reason.  The reason you were given a citation, was that you live out of town.  If you choose to fight the citation in court, you can plan to take three days off work, travel back and forth to the court, and face court cost should you lose.  Judges are hired by the same group that hires the police department, so the judge will be out of work if he doesn't help support the mission.  So you are given a bogus ticket and then ran through a kangaroo court, so most people pay the fine, take the loss and move on, which amounts to nothing more than legal thievery. 

Texas has a requirement that cities give a major portion of the fine to the state.  That is supposed to be the deterrent from local police departments implementing speed traps.  That tactic is obviously not working, but rather makes the municipality write more citations to make up the difference.  The only way to truly solve this problem is to have reasonable controls in place to de-incentivize speed traps.  It is up to our Texas legislature to protect us from the opportunistic police departments and if they do not get back to their mission to protect and serve, they can essentially be shut down. 

When looking for ideas on how to handle this, I found a very good template from
Oklahoma.  Even though I grew up in Oklahoma, I did find it a bit shocking that
I would find model legislation there.  Under the Oklahoma law, if a city gets a large enough portion of it's annual budget through traffic citation revenue, then they can no longer write citations on any road that is maintained by the state or federal government.  Therefore, if they get too out of line with their citation revenue, they will be shut down as a speed trap.  They can still respond to accidents or emergencies, but no citations.  If they continue to write citations, they will have to write them on their own streets to their own citizens, and the scenario above will play out and the police and the politicians will be out of work. 
You can see the Oklahoma law here: 

What can you do?  Call your Texas (or any state for that matter) State Representatives and Senators urging them to sponsor or support legislation to reform speed traps.  I will be presenting this to several legislators myself in hopes of getting this into a bill.  If you do not know me, I am persistent, and will keep at this until we get something moving.  This is coming at a time when police departments across the nation have come under scrutiny for this very action.  Furthermore, police seizures and red light cameras are also a hot topic.  So it is time for Texas to take decisive action, and protect Texans from overreaching police departments.