Volume 2, Issue 1 University of Houston
Slow your roll, Houston -- police have to write tickets
Traffic-ticket quotas are illegal. But Houston police officers' getting in trouble for not writing tickets isn't.
Police officers can receive low performance ratings for working the streets for several days without writing tickets. Because their presence encourages drivers to behave themselves, the city encourages officers to write tickets. It still sounds like a quota to me.
This column isn't about quotas or my experiences with traffic tickets, folks. I haven't been pulled over in quite a while, and never in Houston.
When I participate in the anarchy on Interstate 45, driving up to 85 mph in 60 mph speed limits, cops simply pass me. Of course I slow down when I see them, but I am breaking the law and getting away with it.
I don't mind that much. After all, I am only participating in the anarchy, not creating it. I am merely keeping up with traffic.
Yet officers aren't writing as many citations as they have in previous years. Since June 1999, the number of traffic tickets filed into the municipal court system by the Houston Police Department and other agencies has decreased almost every month. In November 1999, 47,363 tickets were filed into the system, compared with more than 50,000 tickets a year earlier.
A front-page story in Monday’s Houston Chronicle reported officers haven't been as willing lately as they have been in the past to write tickets due to an increase in paperwork, and even because of Y2K concerns.
Yes, Y2K has a role in the decrease of traffic tickets being written in Houston. The funny thing is, the computer system used in the Houston municipal court system is so old, it probably can't even support Solitaire. Maybe that’s a good thing — the last thing we need is another distraction in the courtroom.
Judge: Can you show for the court what these lawyers have been talking about for the past two hours? I must have dozed off again.
Clerk: What? You weren't listening either? All I know is that I won the last four games.
Some say fewer tickets were written because of the fear that court dates couldn't be scheduled after Jan. 1, 2000. But as of right now, the computers will be able to make the jump into the next century ... in theory.
The really unfortunate situation of fewer traffic tickets being written will shift very soon because city officials are being forced to make budget cuts to accommodate the drop in traffic fines and fees. Such fines and fees totaled almost $4 million in October 1999.
Many officers haven't been writing as many tickets because of a policy that began in the summer requiring officers to fill out additional paperwork about the racial identity of drivers they ticket.
Police Chief C.O. Bradford said the data can be used to protect officers from lawsuits that try to claim the officers, or the police department as a whole, are biased against any certain group of drivers.
I'd like to get a copy of this information after it has been compiled and analyzed for a year, and I'm sure insurance companies would like to as well.
The truth is, officers of the law are human. And although I don't agree with all of the policies and laws they are required to enforce, I respect and am honestly grateful for the human nature that plays into the equation of law enforcement.
This isn't because I'm white, male and clean-cut. Discrimination is wrong any way you look at it, but all humans are biased in some way or another, even though they may not like to admit it. Bias does not have to equal bigotry. Some officers exercise good judgment when they write tickets and pull over drivers for traffic violations.
And if they don't, it's always possible to request a jury trial for the alleged violation.
Slow your roll, Houston. These officers need to keep
their jobs, and if that means writing more tickets, try not to be the one
who has to pay for it.
Moeller, who’s rolling back home for a month, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.