Among the many issues stemming from the Dallas Police Department's struggles to hire and retain police officers is that it is becoming harder to get a traffic ticket in Dallas, according to city officials, DPD union leaders and municipal court data.
"You cannot get a ticket in this town," Dallas City Council member Mark Clayton said during a council briefing last year. "I can strap a still on the top of my car and brew from it, and I'm not getting a ticket."
Frustrated with what he perceived as a too small number of cops watching the roads, Clayton took his frustration out during a discussion about Dallas' annual residents' survey, which showed that people living in the city viewed traffic enforcement as the No. 1 public safety area in need of improvement.
Clayton found support from City Council member and mayoral candidate Scott Griggs.
"The street racing and speeding in Oak Cliff and southern Dallas is out of control," Griggs said. "You can just go to Jefferson, Illinois, Hampton, Westmoreland, Polk, any of the streets in southern Dallas, really, at night and you can hear them just rolling up to the stoplights, waiting for them to turn green and starting racing."
At the meeting, Clayton said that DPD has about a dozen traffic cops on duty. That's still about right, Dallas Police Association President Mike Mata says.
"There really isn't [any traffic enforcement in Dallas]. The only traffic enforcement you will see from the motors [traffic cops] — there used to be 30 or 40 of them, and now there's less than 15 — you'll see it in school zones," Mata says. "That's all you'll see. We used to have a large number of DWI elements. We don't anymore. As you drive through the city of Dallas, you'll see that people drive crazy."
While data from the city shows that people are still getting tickets, the clip at which they're getting them has been on a steep decline. In each of the last six years, according to city data, the number of tickets in the city has decreased. In 2013, drivers received 216,479 tickets from Dallas cops. Last year, that number dipped 149,667, a decline of about 31 percent. As recently as the 2006-07 fiscal year, DPD issued nearly 480,000 tickets.
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As fewer tickets have been issued, Dallas municipal court revenues have declined.
According to city budget documents, the city initially expected Dallas' municipal courts to take in $18,701,471 during the 2016-17 fiscal year. For the 2017-18 fiscal year, that amount dropped to $16.1 million. Revenue declines caused by fewer tickets being written are expected to continue in 2018-19, the document says.
Given DPD's difficulty in hiring new cops, it could be awhile before the city is able to ramp up staffing in the traffic division, Dallas City Manager T.C. Broadnax said at last year's meeting.
"Quite honestly, given, one, our level of staffing of police, and our understanding of crime prevention and the other issues that are currently stressing them, I think the chief and her team are really focused on the things that we hear a lot about," Broadnax told Clayton. "The staff we're adding are going into patrol, and I think [police priorities] on calls and other things really don't lend themselves to [focusing on traffic]."