"Do we live in Texas or 'Taxus'?"
Mar 14, 2008
by Paul Perry
Everyone’s favorite agency, the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), has found yet another path to your wallet. The same agency that is quarterbacking the great Texas land and personal rights grab, the Trans-Texas Corridor, has been and is granting money to local enforcement groups in order to focus enforcement on speeders.
Selective Traffic Enforcement Program (STEP) grants are given to local law enforcement agencies, including the Waxahachie Police Department among others in Texas and the Metroplex, in order to pay overtime to officers to write more traffic tickets.
Grants are being targeted, just in time for family vacations, during spring break.
No job is more thankless than pulling over drivers for speeding infractions. Officers know that a traffic stop is potentially dangerous; maybe not on par with a "domestic violence" call, but surprises do happen. Most experienced police officers don’t like traffic duty, but we all know it is necessary. How and why it is done is where a good discussion can be had.
The mere presence of a marked squad car will cause almost all drivers to check their speed, if not slow down, sometimes unnecessarily. Seeing a marked squad is a reminder of the power of enforcement. Retired and long-time veteran officers generally will tell you that most people do not need to be issued a ticket or pay a fine in order to be encouraged to drive within some reasonable range of the speed limit. A few might need a verbal or written warning from an officer, and some folks need an occasional ticket. A few drivers will not slow down short of a fatality accident.
Where most thinking people have a problem with the enforcement process is when it is being used to generate revenue, unless you are TxDOT. Tickets that are written in order to deal with those who, in an officer’s judgment, will not slow down otherwise are one thing; marginal tickets – tickets written to folks who might otherwise get a warning or tickets written to those who are running slightly over the speed limit in good road conditions – are another.
The agency that is behind legislation to infringe on your rights by shortcutting the normal eminent domain process in Texas law in regard to the Trans-Texas Corridor Project doesn’t primarily judge the success of its grant-giving by how many traffic accidents are reduced, even though that data is available on its website in spots. What the state agency seems to be more concerned with is how many more tickets are being written. Section 8 of its grant application indicates that a city’s or county’s past "performance" on enforcement will be considered in future grant requests from this organ of your state government. Interesting – anyone care to venture a guess why?
Most taxpayers aren’t aware that almost all of the first hundred dollars paid by an individual who is cited for a speeding infraction goes to the state. The remainder goes to the city or county. So an organ of the state, TxDOT, gives a grant to a local law enforcement organization to cover overtime pay for officers in order to write more speeding tickets, and the state receives the lion’s share of the first hundred dollars collected on each and every speeding ticket. That grant sounds more like a business loan to me. This deal becomes quite a potential moneymaker for the state as well as the ticket-issuing cities and counties.
Couple this with the fact that the enabling legislation for the Trans-Texas Corridor contains language that could result in a special police organization being formed to regulate traffic and enforce law in the corridor, and TxDOT’s foray into influencing local departments becomes more interesting. Is this a window into how a new TTC special police would be run? It appears TxDOT and your state would like to extract money from motorists coming and going. Do we live in Texas or "Taxus"?
Due to the pressures inherent in these grants law enforcement might issue more marginal tickets than are really needed, in order to justify their TxDOT grant-financed overtime pay. Who is policing the police? Well, everyone is supposed to be able to have their day in court in our nation, but if your cities’ courtroom is run like Waxahachie city judge Sylvia Lopez-Beaver runs hers, as an example, who knows? Judge Beaver is known for regularly setting bonds in the $5000-$10,000 dollar range and up for jailable misdemeanors. I hope her traffic court is not run like her bail hearings, to date. I hope some common sense prevails in the courts of your city and county.
We need leadership in local law enforcement that first and foremost has the interests of average citizen and taxpayers in mind when it comes to evaluating offers of "help" form the state and federal government as well as enforcing the law. Every Sheriff and police chief candidate around the state should be evaluated with those concerns in mind.
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