Citations leap in traffic enforcement push
In the fall of 2009, Grand Junction Police Department Chief John Camper kept a shaky grip on the helm of an agency rocked by the misdeeds of a few officers.
It was during that season of public controversy that department leaders quietly took a closer look at how they go about their day-to-day business, Camper said.
Camper and Deputy Chief in Charge of Operations John Zen pored over data assessing the department’s performance. Among their findings: who was and wasn’t writing traffic tickets.
Things would change noticeably in the next year.
“One of the things that stood out to us was traffic enforcement was being done primarily by our traffic team officers,” the chief said, referring to a group of roughly six officers tasked primarily with traffic enforcement and accident investigations.
The rate of tickets being issued by the specialized unit compared to patrol officers was “way more,” Camper said.
“For most departments, you want to see your patrol officers have emphasis on that as well,” he said.
Camper said a specific directive wasn’t issued to patrol officers, and he scoffed at the idea of ticket quotas. But the message was clear from command staff.
“Officers were encouraged to be more active not only in terms of traffic enforcement, but getting out into neighborhoods, doing business checks,” he said, citing other duties.
“It was important to me and Deputy Chief Zen that we have measurable indications of officers doing proactive work above and beyond just responding to calls,” Camper said.
The numbers suggest a message was received.
According to 2010 year-end department data, municipal court traffic citations in Grand Junction jumped to 9,583 in 2010, a nearly 69 percent increase from 2009, which produced 5,680 traffic citations. The totals marked a five-year high for tickets as well as associated revenue generated by the department: $700,749.
Camper bristles at suggestions traffic enforcement is a revenue tool. It’s a familiar claim, he said.
“We expect our officers to stay busy and proactive, but there’s never been any numbers associated with that,” Camper said.
“I haven’t met a cop yet in my 30-plus years of law enforcement who gives one wit about raising revenue through traffic enforcement. It works, cuts into accidents.”
Crash totals for 2010 make that case, he said.
According to year-end department numbers, injury traffic accidents in Grand Junction declined in 2010, recording an overall drop of nearly 11 percent to 2,181.
Officers also aren’t writing tickets at every opportunity, per department figures.
Of 17,614 traffic stops in 2010, 7,280 of those stops, or roughly 41 percent, resulted in drivers being let go with warnings.