Remember that story a couple of weeks back about how Dallas was sitting on 25,000 municipal court warrants? And how you were probably safe ignoring your traffic citation with impunity? That was caused by a technical glitch, and technical glitches get fixed. The reprieve was temporary.
The broader trend is that the city's municipal courts are getting much, much better. If they're not yet a well-oiled model of efficiency, they are at least an increasingly effective means of squeezing fines out of traffic violators.
Take a look at the numbers. Before, those who challenged their citations had a better-than-even shot at a dismissal; ; only the foolish and the tragically civic-minded paid their fines up front. That's changed. The overall number of dismissals is down 28 percent over last year there.
According to court records maintained by the state, the number of dismissals is dropping, down 28 percent year over year, only some of which is explained by DPD's newfound permissiveness. The percentage of newly filed cases resulting in dismissal dropped from 42.1 percent to 34.7 percent as reforms have reduced the number of police officer no-shows and unprepared prosecutors.
The outcomes now look like this:
The number of people who plead guilty or no contest and pay their fine -- the city's preferred outcome, because it's quick and cheap -- has dropped slightly over the past year, but not enough to offset the reduced dismissals. In 2009, the city collected $80 for every citation. In 2013, that figure was $115.
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More worrisome still for scofflaws were the city's repeated pledges at yesterday's council meeting to become a "leader in the industry," which was invariably described in opaque business jargon. (e.g. The municipal courts will become "more customer-centered"; "Deferred disposition is our most popular court program"; "We're reviewing this process to see if we can find efficiencies.")
The upshot is that further reforms should make tickets harder to beat. Prosecutors should soon be able to stream police video from dash cams (and, eventually, body cams) in the courtroom, obviating the need for police officers to recall traffic stops from memory. The city is also developing a smartphone app so those who get a ticket can pay it that very night.
Send your story tips to the author, Eric Nicholson.