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Dallas Cops Are Writing Half as Many Tickets as They Did Five Years Ago

Driving in Dallas sucks for a lot of reasons (traffic, terrible drivers, humongous potholes, et al), but overzealous traffic cops aren't one of them.

This isn't just the anecdotal experience of a guy who, having been ticketed three times in five months as a teenager in Richardson, discovered similar infractions are routinely ignored by Dallas' finest. It's statistics.

As The Dallas Morning News' Scott Goldstein reports today, the number of traffic citations in Dallas dropped by 15 percent for the past year. The year before, the decline was 18 percent. The year before that, another 15 percent.

It's not a new phenomenon. A chart presented to Dallas City Council's Ad Hoc Judicial Nominations Committee shows a steady decline in tickets, from 495,007 in fiscal year 2007 to 211,843 in FY 2013.

See also: Dallas Traffic Lights Are Terrible, So City Wants to Spend $250 Million on an Overhaul

The "no duh" explanation is that police are writing fewer tickets. The "focus of everyday Patrol Division Officers seems to have shifted away from writing citations," Assistant City Manager Joey Zapata noted in his presentation, noting that the average beat cop pulls out his ticket book almost 600 fewer times per year than he used to. In the traffic division, the number of "high writers" -- those writing more than 1,000 per year -- is half of what it once was.

The slightly more complex reason is that DPD is making a conscious shift away from traditional traffic enforcement techniques.

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"The purpose of traffic enforcement is to improve traffic safety, not to raise revenue," Chief David Brown told Goldstein in an email last year. "We don't believe the citizens of Dallas want its police department writing citations to raise revenues."

And finally, the most complex reason lies with Dallas' beleaguered municipal courts system. A traffic citation can be costly to prosecute. Reforms implemented over the past year and a half have made things more efficient by disposing of more cases through guilty pleas and slashing the number of dismissals, but the city is still in the process of "rightsizing" its municipal court system.

The end result, though, is the same. You're half as likely to get a ticket in Dallas as you were five years ago.

Send your story tips to the author, Eric Nicholson.

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