Dallas County loves sheriff revenue patrols

Recently, the Dallas County Sheriff’s Department (DCSD) aggressively increased revenue enhancement traffic patrols. Now the DCSD patrols all freeways in the southern half of Dallas County and is seeking more freeway patrol duties.

The Dallas Morning News explains:

The department patrols unincorporated areas of Dallas County in the southern sector – a shrinking area of only about 9,000 residents. (source)

Texas sheriffs have full countywide jurisdiction, but their traditional police mandate is to patrol unincorporated county land. The DCSD’s policing mandate is shrinking with this unincorporated land.

Dallas County Commissioners are loathe to spend scarce resources only to duplicate city police. An impending $20 million county deficit seals this point.

As the rural mandate and dollars go away, all incentive is–literally–on revenue enhancement. (Disagree? See why Dallas County started constable traffic patrols.)

Dallas County, meet your new sheriff’s department: home of Texas’s most incompetently-managed jails and revenue patrols.

I feel so much safer!

Dallas County constable traffic patrols have revenue motivation?

In October 1995, Dallas County, Texas funded new constable traffic patrol units in south Dallas County. Their explicit purpose was to generate profit through speed enforcement. Projected revenues were 200% of costs, meaning 100% profit.

In 1999, Dallas County expanded constable traffic patrols into the city of Dallas. At the time, Commissioner John Wiley Price only hoped for “break even” revenue flows.

In 2000, Chief Deputy Constable Helen Hicks told the Dallas Morning News that the constables write an “extremely large” number of speeding tickets.

The speed enforcement campaign has caused turf wars with the cities that were in the initial program. In 1996, DeSoto Police captain Warren Box said “The more [constable speed enforcement] we get to keep everyone slowed down, the happier I get.” However, by 2003, the Dallas Morning News characterized DeSoto City Manager Jim Baugh as expressing that constables should stop enforcing speed limits within his city and “do their main job – serve civil and criminal papers.” In fact, as of 2003, the cities of Duncanville, DeSoto, and Cedar Hill had asked the constables to back off their speed enforcement program. However, Constable Roma Skinner responded with “[the complaints] and $1 … could buy you a cup of coffee.”

The speed enforcement program contributed significantly to $177 million in unpaid Dallas County traffic tickets and tens of thousands of outstanding, unserved constable warrants by July 2008.

In the face of a $34 million deficit for fiscal year 2008-2009, Dallas County commissioners have proposed eliminating constable traffic patrol units and a central processing center to save $6 million annually. Commissioners were “surprised” to learn that the traffic patrols alone operate at a net loss of $1 million.

Al Cercone, Precinct 3 Justice of the Peace, characterized the proposal as “foolish” because of lost traffic ticket revenue. Commissioner Maruine Dickey agrees. The Dallas Morning News characterized her view of traffic patrols as “doing their job generating money.” She further said that the end of the of traffic patrols would “really become a revenue loss for the county.”

The proposal to eliminate traffic patrols is partly in response to Justice Cercone joining 4 other justices in refusing to participate in a central ticket processing center. Not only is its legality questioned, the Justices don’t appreciate how the center sometimes adjudicates citations favorably to motorists. The center also wastes county staff time with sloppy letters, loses citations, and takes up to two years to properly route citations.

Dallas, TX resident Daniel Murphy recently received a $204 ticket for a paperwork violation. After unsuccessfully spending 12 phone hours trying to sort out payment, he eventually mailed a $204 check, hoping it would resolve.

Commissioners Court administrator Allen Clemson demonstrated complete obliviousness to the plight of victimized motorists, stating that the “concept” and “execution” of the central processing center are “good.”

On July 7, the County’s elected leadership resolved to eliminate the ticket processing center, shifting its resources back to Justice of the Peace courts.

Texas constables are certified peace officers with full jurisdiction in any precinct in their respective county. However, their traditional and statutorily-implied mandate is to handle light duty matters like providing court bailiffs, handling class C misdemeanor warrants, or serving civil notices. Sheriff’s offices traditionally handle heavier duty work like warrants for class A and B misdemeanors or felonies, routine patrols, and traffic enforcement.

Ironically, the constable speed enforcement program has been so prolific the constables now have a backlog of 55,000 traffic-related warrants. This us up from 40,000 in September 2007, when Commissioner Price characterized the backlog as not being “unreasonable.”


County constables issuing traffic tickets for first time – Safety in school zones, revenue from fines sought, Dallas Morning News, January 8, 1996

Aiming to serve better – Constable ‘s office takes on new duties to fight Dallas speeders, Dallas Morning News, October 12, 1999

LEARNING TO PLAY IT SAFE – School zone rules enforced as students return, Dallas Morning News, August 13, 2000

Constables ‘ traffic tickets irritate some – Cities want enforcement suspended, Dallas Morning News, February 21, 2003

County constables will soon serve felony warrants – Intent to ease backlog, but some say deputies aren’t prepared for risk, Dallas Morning News, September 20, 2007

Dallas County commissioners propose deal to eliminate traffic units, Dallas Morning News, June 27, 2008

Dallas County trying to raise fine collection rate, Dallas Morning News, June 24, 2008

As motorists’ frustration rises, justices of the peace pull out of automated ticket payment program, Dallas Morning News, July 5, 2008

Dallas County to scrap central collections for traffic tickets, Dallas Morning News, July 7, 2008

Correction about pet shedding

I used to blame our mostly white-haired Sheltie for our household’s unrelenting pet hair problems. Back in 2001, the pet hair problems seemed to multiply after we got her.

Now that we are cat-less, the truth came out. It was Amelia, the Himalayan cat!

Bad kitty!

We’re living an almost shed-free life right now–at least until Sugar’s semiannual “coat blow,” where she loses the undercoat preparing for the change of season.

Shared hosting vs. Roll my own

I am at a crossroads with my neighborhood association’s electronic presence.

Currently it consists of:

  • A simple static HTML site hosted through my 1and1.com Beginner shared hosting plan, the same where this blog is hosted.
  • Five different Google Groups: announcements, discuss (everyone can contribute), mom’s club, recipe club, and association leadership.

I have an opportunity to use my own server to host all these features and some more. At first glance, this seems appealing, but it is so cut-and-dried:

Feature Shared Hosting or Google Groups Ubuntu server
What I have to maintain Web applications at 1and1.com and the five Google Groups. Web applications plus:

It all runs as a Hyper-V virtual machine on a Windows 2008 server that I don’t have to maintain.

Technical prowess of maintainer Generally expert maintenance. I am well experienced and degreed as IT staff and can work my way around Linux systems pretty well, but I am not a Linux expert. I will have to trust Ubuntu’s and its supported packages’ default configurations and heavily rely on the aptitude package manager.I only have academic knowledge of advanced security methods like chroot.
Support quality 1and1 can be flaky, but with enough piddling with support, the problem will be solved. Google has no support to speak of, but their stuff usually just works.
Security Tight security commensurate with shared hosting.
Error handling Difficult since I cannot see the Apache logs. Since I have full control over the server, I can control my own Apache logs.
Flexibility Limited to what 1and1 or Google Groups will allow me to do. That being said, I still have tremendous flexibility within their packages. Full control, but in some cases, like with Mailman, the best available software is primitive and feature-poor (see below).
Control over data Web hosts occasionally terminate hosting for arbitrary reasons, although likelihood is probably minimal given the uncontroversial content. Furthermore, there are avenues of recourse since I am a paying customer.Google Groups is a wild card. We are not paying, and their standards for what constitutes a spammer is arbitrary. If too many complaints gets lodged against any of my 5 groups, they could be deleted. I guess as long as I regularly download copies of their respective membership lists, I have an “out”? Full ownership (if backups regularly happen).
Hardware redundancy Reasonable. I have only encountered a few brief outages with 1and1. Zero, although server owner plans to sell some services he will provide on the Windows 2008 master machine, so he has incentive to keep it working.
Data storage limit 10GB currently, but a 120GB plan is just $1 more per month. Currently 34GB. Additional space may be trickier to add and could more closely parallel actual cost of equipment (versus $1 per month).
Outages Both 1and1 and Google Groups have had minimal outages. Not sure if either would get past “three nines,” but that is plenty for my purposes. Outages and duration thereof could be more likely given lack of redundancy and overbooked and only mildly competent support staff (me).
Passing the torch (I won’t be system admin forever!) Easier since I can turn over Google Groups management to someone else and could theoretically send all stuff hosted at 1and1 to someone else for hosting at his own shared account. More difficult because, again, I will be the only support staff. I can act in a server admin role, though.
Server speed 1and1’s speeds usually acceptable. They used to drag a lot but they are getting progressively better. Very fast.
Ability to support upcoming camera monitoring project Will be a challenge with 1and1 due to how there is only 1 FTP username/password per customer account. Fully customizable.
General email list functionality Pretty good with Google Groups for announce-only or run of the mill lists. Some users have complained of not receiving emails, but nobody has been able to substantiate problems, so these may not be valid gripes. Mailman appears to be the best option, and it’s simultaneously primitive and too option-rich.For example, it’s not possible to set up an announce-only list. Yes, you can change some configuration options to emulate one, but you still have to set each new user’s moderate flag.Mailman’s user interface sucks! Give me Lyris any day!

Majordomo is not an option. I will not run a program that hasn’t been developed in 8 years.

Phplist may be an option, but that is yet another program to support! And it’s not supported directly by the Ubuntu project.

Emergency SMS alert list functionality Google Groups probably isn’t right for this. There’s no way to turn off the footer, so even a blank message will exceed the 160 byte SMS message boundary. Mailman may be an option (albeit with the above difficulties concerning announce-only lists), but phplist may also work. But that would be yet another stinking program to install!
Backup Regular. Probably sporadic and not automated.
Time commitment Baseline. Baseline plus time to maintain all components and support system. Could be significant if package upgrades increase commitment. However, if packages are “set and forget”, then commitment can be trivial.

The argument gets even more abstract.

What’s the best way to ensure I can pass the torch to someone else? To not even use my own software. That means the correct option is “none of the above.”

There is already a service called neighborhoodlink.com. Some adjacent neighborhoods use this company. For example, Little Forest Hills. Why not use this? Sure, it’s kind of ugly. Sure, it’s feature poor, and it looks kludgy. But will it “get the information out”, do it for the least possible effort, and increase continuity? Yes, yes, and yes!

This is a tough decision.