Traffic Citations and Overtime Up?

Katy Grimes: Traffic citations issued by the California Highway Patrol and other police departments in California are on the rise, reports The Sacramento Bee today. But the reasoning, while not surprising, is suspect: Revenue.

However, this isn’t being done without a cost – over the past two years, the CHP has been implementing overlapping 12-hour shifts, reported the Bee. I’d like to see the overtime hours for the CHP compared with the increased number of traffic citations – I am betting that both overtime pay and traffic tickets are on the rise. And I’d like to see just how many of those tickets are issued on time-and-a-half or double-time, and who is authorizing that overtime.

“The California Highway Patrol is handing out more traffic citations than it did a few years ago, and that has generated tens of millions of dollars in new revenue for state and local government,” the Bee reported, using data from the CHP.

Once again, the working class and lower-income folks are paying the bill. And advocates for drivers say traffic enforcement all over the state is on the rise.

If this is true, then according to the police departments and CHP which claim they have had to cut staff with the budget crisis, they are achieving this revenue windfall with fewer employees, and probably could have done this all along.

In Oakland, the police department has learned to do more with less. “Overall,the department’s officer ranks shrank from 837 in November 2008 to 660 now due to layoffs and attrition,” the story said. And, as cities rely more on red-light cameras to do the work for them, violations have increased.

But, a lack of enforcement of laws is one of the biggest gripes voters have – not that we want more traffic citations, but thousands of laws are passed and never enforced — that is, unless revenue is attached, and even then it happens erratically, vindictively and resentfully.

Police departments around the state have been quite dramatic about budget cuts, as if public safety shouldn’t have to tighten up budgets the way everyone else is forced to do. There’s just as much waste in public safety as in other government agencies.

The CHP and other police officials claim that their sole concern is safety.  And they report that they are currently putting more officers on the street, despite cutting staff.

Why haven’t police done this all along if safety is really the primary concern? While the number of expired registrations and unpaid tickets may have gone up during the economic crisis, bad drivers didn’t just increase when the budget crisis hit California.

Revenue is a powerful motive – the state wants more, police departments want more, and employees want overtime. It’s a win-win… for everyone but drivers.

APR. 1, 2011

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