Lawmakers put skids on ticket quotas, but speed traps continue

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. ??? A Florida lawmaker is ending police quotas for traffic tickets, but not before a rural town in his district was the subject of national ridicule.

CNN and CBS news, to name two media outlets, reported the city of Waldo???s seven police officers wrote nearly 12,000 speeding tickets and collected more than $400,000 in fines in a year. The fines amounted to 50 percent of the city???s entire revenue and 60 percent of the small North Florida police department???s budget.

As a result, Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, is taking action.

???It???s important for people to understand that if their local law enforcement agency is being supported by nothing but traffic revenue or, if it???s a large part, they need to be aware of that and decide if that???s an important way to fund a law enforcement agency,??? Bradley said Thursday during a Fiscal Policy Committee meeting at the Capitol.

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But north Florida speed traps, one of the worst kept secrets in the state, would persist, and Bradley???s fix would allow local law enforcement agencies to continue raising significant sums through ticketing.

Commonly thought to be illegal, a gray area in state law allows county sheriffs and municipal police departments to use ticketing quotas. ???Agents of the state,??? such as the Florida Highway Patrol, cannot.

Bradley???s bill would close the loophole.

His proposal, Senate Bill 264, triggers a state audit if a local government???s total revenue from traffic tickets exceeds 50 percent of its law enforcement budget. Arguably, the measure gives the appearance of solving an embarrassing problem while simply capping ticketing schemes at a generous threshold.

???If a town wants to hand out tickets and use it as a revenue source, this doesn???t prevent them from doing it, it just says that they have to tell people about it,??? said Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth.

The bill has so far received unanimous bipartisan support, with the Police Benevolent Association and the Florida Police Chiefs Association giving it a thumbs, as well.

Motorists should still beware.

???Speed traps really have nothing to do with public safety and everything to do with generating revenue from writing as many speeding tickets as possible,??? John Bowman, spokesman for the National Motorist Association, told Watchdog.

In 2012, NMA listed Waldo, Fla., as the third-worst speed trap in the country, which belies the notion the city???s dubious ticketing practices were previously unknown.

Hampton, another Bradford County town, was dinged months earlier for ticketing problems. Upon review, the Florida Auditor General found 31 accountability issues, some dating back years. Time magazine picked up on that story.

H. Lee Moffitt, a lobbyist for AAA auto, said Thursday the Legislature has known about the practice for decades but hasn???t had ???the appetite??? to pass reform ??? until now.

???Cities bitterly complained that the only reason was for public safety,??? said Moffitt, a former House speaker. ???Almost 20 years later, it???s finally time to put an end to citation quotas.???

Moffitt, a former House Speaker, said AAA has even paid for billboards in the area to warn drivers of the abusive ticketing practices.

In some instances, quotas have been used as a way to measure police officers??? performance, according to a Senate bill analysis. But that???s on its way out.

Several emails obtained by Watchdog from the Senate Transportation Committee say abolishing the quotas would prohibit officers from being evaluated, promoted, compensated or disciplined for failing to write a specific number of tickets.

???Over-ticketing is effective to raise revenues,??? said Bowman, ???unfortunately, it takes advantage of motorists who may be driving in a responsible manner.???

???The handing out of more tickets does not result in less accidents,??? Clemens said.