Astounding! The numbers presented in “Highway Robbery” are simply astounding! I never imagined that the Village of Arlington Heights, Ohio could issue enough citations over one year that every man, woman and child living there could have four of their very own?
But let us examine the obviously biased and misleading view of the writer, Felix Winternitz. Mr. Winternitz attacks every Mayor’s Court in the local area without performing any valid research. And the numbers “crunched” by Cincy Business Magazine, while entertaining, are completely useless. In the chart, “Trial by Mayor: Odor in the Court!”, Mr. Winternitz intends to show that Police Departments are issuing more than their fair share of citations based on the amount of residents and vehicle accidents where injuries occurred. If this was the sole statistic available, Mr. Winternitz may have accomplished his goal. However, a majority of traffic accidents never result in any type of injury other than to a person’s pride and property. There were a total of 358,127 traffic crashes in the State of Ohio in 2005, meaning that a resident driver has a 3% chance of being involved in an auto accident every time they start their vehicle. In 72% of these cases speed was a contributing factor to the cause of the accident, if not the primary cause. Unfortunately, there were 1,227 fatal traffic crashes the same year. In more than 60% of those crashes speed was the direct cause of a loss of someone’s life. That means that at least two people died every single day on Ohio roads because someone chose to disobey the Law. But what does it matter…speeding is a victimless crime, right?
Mysteriously, the total number of traffic accidents in each jurisdiction seems to be missing from Mr. Winternitz’s chart. Regardless, it appears to me there is still a direct relation when the more citations a department may issue, the less amount of injury accidents are occurring.
Speed is a contributing factor in almost every traffic accident. I believe this fact is taught in every driving school in the state? And the chances of a person being injured in an automobile accident greatly increase with every mile per hour over the posted speed limit. The Ohio Department of Transportation is responsible for creating the speed limits and placing the proper signs, not the local municipal government! A local municipality may request ODOT review the posted limit and request that it be lowered for the safety of its residents. Regardless, the speed limits are determined to be the maximum speed a person may travel if the road conditions are considered “perfect”, and in the tri-state area they rarely are perfect.
But the most important factor relating to this argument is the amount of vehicles traveling through one of these jurisdictions. Arlington Heights, for instance, has more than seventy-four million vehicles travel through its jurisdiction each year, more than eighty-two thousand times its population of 899! Using the raw number of cases provided by Mr. Winternitz (3,772) and assuming the every single case is a speed violation, the Arlington Heights Police Department issued citations to less than 0.005% of its total traffic flow. Another way to analyze the data is that the Police Department issued approximately one citation for every five-thousand vehicles that passed through the jurisdiction. A similar analysis of other jurisdictions yields a lower percentage of issued citations. Even the smaller jurisdictions that rank high on Mr. Winternitz’s list show an average of three to five citations per day or one to two citations per eight hour shift.
Since Mr. Winternitz seems particularly interested in Arlington Heights due to the “stunning” 419.6 ratio of cases per population, we can further analyze the flaws in his statistics. For instance, the $200,000 annual payroll for five full time officers and one other employee show an average of $33,334 salary for each employee. Assuming that the information provided is correct and that each employee works only forty hours per week, those officers rake in a “whopping” $16.03 per hour. Average hourly rate plus benefits at your local White Castle isn’t far below that, just read the sign in the drive thru as you pass. Is Mr. Winternitz implying that Police Officers receive a bonus if they write more traffic citations?
But there is a harsh reality to this statistic that most citizens never realize. That amount of money may seem like quite a bit to some, but the reality of a career as a Law Enforcement Officer is rarely glamorous. Every case that an officer is involved carries a high probability the officer will be called to testify in court. When an officer is a full time employee of a Police Department, this never presents a problem because the officer will be fully reimbursed for their time. Most part time and auxiliary officers often maintain other full time employment. When called to testify in court, those officers often loose an entire days worth of pay from their main employment. Auxiliary officers work as “volunteers” for their selected department and therefore receive no monetary reimbursement during any employment activities from a Police Department including regular patrol, trial proceedings and mandatory training. On average, an auxiliary officer will donate more than 600 hours of time to the protection of citizens and more than $1500 in equipment and related expenses to enforce Law annually.
Unfortunately, the majority of the Mayor’s Courts that Mr. Winternitz is attacking employ Police Departments that are staffed by part time and auxiliary officers only. At first glance this seems to support his theory that these departments exist only to boost the revenue of the providing authority. But in reality, as a part time or auxiliary officer, why would I wish to issue citations knowing that when subpoenaed to court I would loose at least one fifth of my paycheck for the week?
Now before readers label me as a total supporter of the Mayor’s Court system, let me clarify my position: I disagree with certain aspects and procedures involving non reporting Mayor’s Courts. I agree that a conflict exists when one individual holds the executive, judicial and legislative powers in a government. All Courts should be required to report all aspects of operations to the State of Ohio. However, this would only serve to hurt the criminal defendant. All cases processed by a Mayor’s Court are reported to the State Auditor’s Office. If the defendant is found guilty in a traffic case, the citation and related documents are forwarded to the Bureau of Motor Vehicles for entry into the defendant’s motor vehicle record. If the defendant is found guilty of a criminal offense, a prescribed action is ordered and the defendant is required to make restitution and sometimes serve time in jail. No entry is made into the permanent criminal record of the defendant. This is the only difference in a reporting and non reporting court. Case Law throughout the United States determines the general punishment for violations of Law and ensures that if a defendant is found guilty, an appropriate punishment is prescribed, regardless of which Court the case is heard.
Mr. Winternitz cleverly quoted Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Thomas Moyer. Chief Justice Moyer endorsed recent legislation regarding Mayor’s Courts and also voiced his concerns about the Chief Law Enforcement Official (the Mayor) also being the deciding authority in cases brought by Police Officers employed by the Mayor. This sole authority gives the perception of a “kangaroo court” and that a person is “guilty as charged” before the trial ever begins. To eliminate this perception, the Ohio Revised Code provides that a Mayor may employ an independent, “disinterested” Magistrate to oversee operations within the Court. Mr. Winternitz attempts to mislead his readers by informing them that any person can walk off the street and become a Magistrate in a Mayor’s Court. In fact, if a Mayor wishes to preside over his or her own Court they must attend training seminars and ab
ide by the rules and regulations provided by the Ohio Supreme Court, which also include guidelines for continuing education. If the Mayor chooses to appoint a Magistrate, the appointee must be “admitted to the practice of law in this state”…meaning they must be a practicing attorney or judge (ORC 1905.05). It is my understanding that a majority of all Mayors choose to appoint a Magistrate in order to further eliminate improper perceptions. More often than not, the presiding Magistrate is a defense attorney! Maybe this is why the average conviction rate of Mayor’s Courts is 86%, almost ten percent below most County Courts?
Mr. Winternitz further quoted “experts” in the field of Traffic Law Enforcement such as an individual who represents a company that produces radar and laser detectors? Could it be that the opinions of this “expert” might possibly be biased and of the intention to sway readers in order to sell more radar and laser detectors? It is a true fact that radar and laser measurement devices do make it easier to catch an alleged speed violator. Before the invention of these devices the only way to enforce a speed violation was to “pace” a vehicle. There is an obvious danger to both the defendant and the officer when the officer attempts to “pace” a vehicle at a close distance at a high rate of speed. Other “experts” prey on the fears of average citizens having them believe that the men and woman in uniform are out to “harass” the public for monetary gain.
Mr. Winternitz also quoted an Ohio State Highway Patrolman, stating…wait, Mr. Winternitz didn’t interview any Law Enforcement personnel in his article. The Ohio State Highway Patrol’s main purpose is to enforce Traffic Law on state roads. In fact, a State “Trooper” has little jurisdiction concerning any violations of Law that do not occur on the roadway or on state owned property. So if in fact “[a police department's] only real job is to write tickets, and they need to write tickets to have a job, what is their real purpose?” Then why isn’t Mr. Winternitz accusing the entire State of Ohio and the eighty-eight counties within of subsidizing their budget via State Patrol Posts? Why hasn’t Mr. Winternitz accused Warren County Sheriff’s Office of professional misconduct for allowing improper enforcement of Traffic Law? After all, I’m sure that his research showed that South Lebanon, Ohio does not staff a single police officer and is in fact patrolled by the Sheriff’s Office, the head of which is an elected official with a ten year term. The Village of Batavia, located in Clermont County, employs a fully operational Police Department yet the Mayor chooses not hold a Mayor’s Court. Where are the statistics comparing the dramatic differences verses other jurisdictions that choose to hold Mayor’s Courts? Accusing these agencies of wrongdoing would only further highlight the flaws in Mr. Winternitz’s statistics and thinking. Each of these areas has eliminated the executive-judicial conflict yet still show similar statistics of local Mayor’s Courts.
This article could go on for ten more pages addressing misinformation presented in “Highway Robbery”. The numbers are astounding…when presented inaccurately. The facts are that Police Officers typically issue citations to less than one percent of the motor vehicles they come in contact. At no time has it been stated the multitude verbal and written warnings that were given to alleged violators? At no time was a comparison made between a Mayor’s Court and County Court to show a dramatic difference in conviction and fine rates?
But there is a very simple solution to keep citizens from donating unofficial “road tax” to subsidize “financially strapped” communities…SLOW DOWN!!! If you are not violating the Laws of the State of Ohio by traveling in excess of the posted speed limit, then you cannot receive a speed citation.
Regardless, if you find yourself “lead footing” through a perceived “speed trap”, know your rights:
1. You have a right to a fair trial, an attorney and trial by jury
2. You have the right to have certain violations immediately transferred to a court of higher authority
3. You have the right to an appeal if convicted
In an attempt to promote a greater understanding of the functions and purpose of your Law Enforcement Officers, many of the large scale Law Enforcement Agencies and Criminal Justice Schools offer classes to citizens at little to no cost. These classes are virtually identical to those provided to Police Officer Cadets. “Ride-along” programs are available in almost every Police Department and Sheriff’s Office in accordance with the “Community Oriented Policing” Philosophy. These classes and programs exist to educate citizens and remove such beliefs as Police Officers are “unfair”, “devious” creatures sent to “prey” on unsuspecting and innocent people so they may “generate revenue for tiny government coffers”.
Finally…Mr. Winternitz, if you choose to abuse your position in the media to destroy the relationship existing between citizens and their Police Officers and Governments sworn to protect them, please do it with factual, unbiased information and informed, intelligent opinions. You and those that share your view should learn to take responsibility for your actions when you decide to disobey the Laws enacted and enforced by your peers. Attempting to justify your wrongdoing with a ridiculous argument only leaves you in the wrong twice.
Remember…”Speeding tickets. They’re inevitable” – unless you take your foot off the gas!