Speed Traps, Ethics & the North Carolina Constitution

 

A few years ago, while serving as Captain at the Landis Police Department, I wrote this piece for the Landis Police Department’s Facebook page to share information and clear up some misconceptions regarding “speed traps” in North Carolina. Although I have since moved on from Landis, this information still holds across our state and is relevant beyond our borders.

I recently read an article about a small town in Missouri, about the same size as Landis (population 3,400), which issued over 17,000 citations last year. Seventeen thousand! In contrast, Landis PD made a total of 992 traffic stops in 2014 & issued a total of 345 citations.

If you do the math, you will see that in Landis, two out of three drivers stopped were sent on their way with only a warning. We believe in treating folks they way we’d like to be treated – our officers are told that if a warning will fix the problem, then that’s the appropriate action to take. It’s just the right thing to do.

Then there is the other thing… Speed traps are typically the result of small towns subsidizing their municipal budget through “enhanced” traffic enforcement. The concept is simple: more tickets = more fines = bigger budget. In these cases, it is generally a municipal officer writing a citation that is payable to a municipal court.

In North Carolina, however, the system isn’t set up that way. All citations are handled in District Court, and our state constitution [Article IX, Section 7(a)] stipulates that all fine proceeds go exclusively to the local school district. In 2014, these fines totaled $1,282,098 in Rowan County [ source: http://linc.state.nc.us/ ].

In short: every penny of criminal or traffic citation fines, regardless of what agency wrote the ticket (city police, county sheriff’s office, etc.) goes to the school system & not to the issuing law enforcement agency or its parent government body. The only money law enforcement agencies in North Carolina do receive is a “service fee” of $5 per citation, in accordance with §7A-304(a)(1). As you can imagine, $5 per traffic citation doesn’t come close to covering the actual cost to the agency for the officer, patrol vehicle, and fuel used to write the citation.

Since there are no financial incentives for “enhanced” traffic enforcement in North Carolina, there are no speed traps in North Carolina. All traffic enforcement conducted here is motivated purely by a desire to keep our roads safe.

As a citizen & as a law enforcement officer, I think we have a relatively good system here in North Carolina. I’ve spoken with officers from other states who are pressured to issue citations. It is the motivation behind that pressure that is truly concerning. When police are unethically forced to function as “armed ATM machines” instead of keepers of the peace, law enforcement understandably loses credibility. It’s a lose-lose situation for all involved.