Ticket-writing surges after city traffic police doubled
Have you gotten a traffic ticket lately? Minneapolis traffic police say they nearly quadrupled tickets written in May compared to March after their unit was more than doubled.
Despite recent widespread 2003 city budget-cutting, the traffic unit grew from 10 to 22 officers in part because ticket fines can pay officer salaries. City officials insist finances aren't the only motivation; they predict speeding and other bad driving will fall and safety will improve, although early data shows no drop in accidents.
Still, City Councilmember Dan Niziolek (10th Ward), head of the council committee overseeing the police, said more traffic cops are already producing results.
Sgt. Wes Ostlund, the unit's nighttime supervisor, said the new officers focus mostly on felony accidents such as drunk driving and moving violations such as speeding and accidents. They sometimes write tickets for expired license tabs, but rarely for parking violations, he said.
Niziolek said the number of tags leapt from 645 tags in March to 2,450 tags in May.
Sara Dietrich, city communications specialist, said the traffic unit was budgeted $875,000 for additional officers, and the fines from tickets they issue pay their cost.
Still, Dietrich said it's not possible to gauge how much money the additional officers have brought so far, since there's approximately a 60-day gap between a driver receiving a ticket and paying the fine.
Ostlund said going to 22 officers has allowed the traffic unit to return to its size 10 years ago. He said the staff boost has significantly boosted enforcement abilities and responsiveness.
"The complaint calls used to be at the low end of the totem poll," he said. "(The increase) makes us more responsive to problems in the neighborhood."
Ostlund said before the increase the 10 officers mostly answered 911 calls, many to accidents, which left little time to respond to problems. "They'd call (with complaints) and we'd have to say sorry, we don't have anyone to send," he said.
Dietrich said traffic issues are liability issues and should be addressed as such, and it's good that the city accomplished this through self-funding (although bad drivers might argue they're the ones financing the accomplishment).
Niziolek said the staffing increase is part of a holistic solution to improve living on city streets. He said he thinks stepped-up enforcement will change people's perception when they come into
Minneapolis. "We're starting to see us as a city get more aggressive dealing with livability," he said.
While the number of tags has increased dramatically, Ostlund said the number of accidents has remained the same. But he said because there are more police on the streets patrolling for traffic offenses, the city will be safer, because police can stop lower-level offenders before drivers cause an accident or commit a more egregious traffic infraction.
Ostlund said the top three causes of accidents are alcohol, speeding and inattentive driving.
Ostlund said more officers will better combat these problems, but a force of 22 still isn't enough for a city as big as Minneapolis.