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.”

Sources:

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

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