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Auburn police issuing more warnings than tickets, so far

Policy change cuts traffic citations by more than half
By: Jon Schultz, Journal Staff Writer
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Traffic fine revenue

Here’s a look at how much revenue the City of Auburn took in from traffic tickets annually for the past six fiscal years.

2012-13: $45,000 (projected)

2011-12: $54,072

2010-11: $73,664

2009-10: $79,981

2008-09: $87,306

2007-08: $79,028

Source: Auburn Administrative Services Director Andy Heath

 

When asked by Mayor Kevin Hanley about the decrease in revenue the city has been receiving from traffic fines, Auburn Police Chief John Ruffcorn said he’d like to think it has had positive effects elsewhere on the budget.

“We have been issuing a lot more warnings instead of issuing tickets,” Ruffcorn said at a recent City Council meeting. “So I’d like to correlate that to an increase in sales tax here in the city.”

That drew laughs from the council, but the new traffic policing philosophy has effected some serious changes.

Beginning October 2011, Auburn police officers had the option of issuing a written warning rather than a ticket for traffic violations, and the amount of tickets issued declined by more than half in the first year of the policy.

It is getting positive reviews, and though it comes at a cost for funds to the department, statistics actually show a slight decrease in traffic collisions.

“I think it’s time to compliment the police chief,” Councilman Dr. Bill Kirby said. “With no increase in accidents, we have seen an improvement of the relationship between the police department and our citizens. It’s been noticeable – and I’ve heard that from people who have been stopped and have received warnings instead of tickets.”

From October 2011 to September 2012, police wrote 359 traffic tickets and 369 warnings, compared to 832 traffic tickets during that same period the prior year.

The City had originally budgeted for $55,000 in traffic fine revenue for the current fiscal year, but on March 11 City Council approved changes to the adopted budget that included reducing the amount of traffic fine funding by $10,000 to $45,000.

In the last full year without written warnings, the city received $73,664 in traffic fine revenue that goes to the general fund for discretionary purposes, and it typically covers law enforcement costs, said Auburn Administrative Services Director Andy Heath.

Before the new policy began, the city usually budgeted $75,000 for traffic fines, Heath said, and between 2007 and 2011 the city averaged a hair less than $80,000 annually.

The police department’s adopted budget for 2012-13 totals $3,437,790.

Lt. Victor Pecoraro called the difference of about $30,000 in annual revenue from traffic fines “significant,” but it doesn’t change how he feels about the policy. Traffic stops can create anxiety for drivers, and a written warning gives them information on fine amounts and safety to review later when tensions have relaxed, Pecoraro said.

“The citations aren’t about revenue,” he said. “Citations are about education and enforcement and safety. … We like having the option of using the written warning system.”

In the first year of issuing written warnings, Auburn had five fewer traffic collisions, decreasing from a total of 243 between October 2010 and September 2011 to 238 during the same time frame the following year. Traffic collisions resulting in injuries also declined from 64 in 2010-11 to 48 in 2011-12, though Pecoraro said there could be more variables at play, including weather.

Hanley said he had concerns about whether people would still take speeding seriously.

“We worked with the public works department to put signs up to let people know that pedestrians have a walkway … and slow down,” he said. “So, hopefully (police) can keep track and make sure that people are taking speeding seriously.

“If (Ruffcorn believes) the policy is working, I am fine with that.”

Ruffcorn said they track people who have been warned multiple times.

Shortly after moving to Auburn, Chicago native James Nixon said he got pulled over for speeding sometime around October 2011, when police began implementing the new policy.

The officer let him off with a warning, Nixon said.

“I was between five and seven miles over the speed limit during the time, and they knew I just moved here and they were very lenient with me,” he said. “And I took heed to that warning, and I never had a problem after that.”

 

Jon Schultz can be reached at jons@goldcountrymedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @Jon_AJNews