PINELLAS PARK – The city doesn’t make as much money off traffic tickets these days, but there are no quotas for summonses that officers must write to make up for the drop in revenues.
A new law that became effective in 2004 calls for counties to get a bigger chunk of the revenues to cover traffic court costs.
Last year the city realized only about $440,000 from traffic violations, down from between $750,000 and $850,000 prior to 2004 when the new law sliced into the municipality’s share of ticket revenues.
Dan C. Katsiyiannis, management and budget administrator, said Pinellas County now gets a bigger piece of the pie to help pay for the traffic court system.
Each moving violation is divided differently between the state, county and municipality. A stop sign violation, for example, could mean more or less money for the city than, say, a speeding ticket.
“It’s a very complicated and confusing revenue sharing procedure,” Katsiyiannis said.
But hard economic times have made officers more aware of the financial hardships a summons might cause for a motorist.
“It’s all discretionary,” Chief Dorene Thomas said. “A traffic stop is all about correcting behavior.”
The officer has done his job if a little talk to a motorist about a traffic violation or a written warning resolves the situation.
Written warnings have become popular with street cops who realize the financial pain an actual ticket can cause along with the increase in insurance premiums.
A drunken driver will not get a break, but a motorist who commits a minor violation like not coming to a complete stop at a remote intersection will, Thomas said.
Cities must share money from summonses with the county and state. A municipality gets only a percentage of a fine imposed by a traffic court judge.
But the loss of traffic ticket revenue at the city level doesn’t mean that police are overly aggressive to make up the money with speed traps and aggressive ticket writing.
“Pinellas Park does not depend on traffic fines to run the government,” Thomas said.
But a few Florida cities, such as Waldo and nearby Lawtey, near Gainesville, are called speed traps by the American Automobile Association. The AAA Web site said that these cities use practices designed to raise revenue rather than prevent accidents.
“We don’t do that here,” Thomas said. “We would rather have better relationships with our citizens and people who travel through Pinellas Park.”
That is not to say that local police do not enforce traffic laws. They still go after speeders and red light runners, both of which cause a great number of accidents.
“People must be held accountable for their actions when they are behind the wheel,” Thomas said. “Motorists speeding through school zones or elsewhere on public streets need to realize that they are putting other lives in jeopardy.”