Friday, March 23, 2012
Reduction in federal pork is one cause of reduced Texas traffic tickets
Several cities, including Dallas, lost grants that would help them step up their coverage.
A commenter on the last Grits post suggested that a key reason the number of traffic tickets written by Texas police went down last year in Austin and elsewhere may have been cuts to the "Selective Traffic Enforcement Program" (STEP), which are federal pass-through grants distributed to law enforcement through the Texas Department of Transportation to pay for overtime devoted to traffic enforcement. And indeed, that may partially, but not fully, explain the recent decline in traffic tickets written by Texas police.
Searching around on TXDOT's website, I found this memo to law enforcement agencies (pdf) from April 2011 detailing 30% cuts to STEP grants -- from $20.2 million to $14.2 million statewide -- with a table at the end showing how much each department's grants were cut.
Houston, which has seen its number of traffic tickets decline, lost $360,000 with the reduction in STEP grant funds; Dallas' grant fell by a like amount. The Department of Public Safety took the biggest hit with a $424,521 reduction.
Austin lost about $158,000 in grant funding for overtime with that 30% reduction -- not chump change, but not remotely enough to account for the 26% reduction in tickets they recorded in 2011. Austin PD says it wrote fewer tickets because of a policy change "because the Highway Enforcement Command shifted its mission from citywide traffic enforcement to a focus on the major highways such as IH-35, MoPac and 183," which seems like a more plausible explanation.
Plus, data from the Office of Court Administration showing a statewide decline in tickets processed in municipal court covered the state fiscal year from September to August, so cuts that took effect April 29 wouldn't have impacted most of that year. In other words, there are indications the decline in ticketing a) predated cuts to STEP grants and b) are too large to be completely explained by them. That's certainly one of several contributing factors, though, and perhaps reason to think the trend might continue in the near term without local traffic enforcement getting artificially pumped up through federal pork.
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