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From: The Boston Globe, "Globe-North" July 31 '05.

Hey, lead foot! Safety is up to you
Amid budget cuts, area police issuing fewer tickets
By Brenda J. Buote, Globe Staff | July 31, 2005

Georgetown and Boxford may share a town line, but they are worlds apart when it comes to traffic enforcement.

In Georgetown, a handful of patrol officers use state-of-the-art computer equipment to track passing motorists and target scofflaws. With the touch of a button, they can obtain state driving and registration records, allowing them to detect more elusive infractions.

Across the line, Boxford often relies on a single patrol officer to cover the town's 112 miles of road. The officer has little time to make traffic stops. Lacking backup, he is usually tied up with more pressing matters -- house alarms, break-ins, and complaints.

The numbers tell the story: From 2002 to 2004, traffic citations issued by the Georgetown Police Department surged 49 percent, while the number of tickets written in Boxford dipped 40 percent.

A Globe analysis of traffic tickets issued by police departments in Boston's northern suburbs reveals that Boxford's story is all too commonplace, as local departments contend with shrinking budgets, less staff, contract skirmishes, and rising fuel costs. In 28 of the 37 Massachusetts communities covered by Globe North, the number of citations issued for moving violations fell; in 23 of those communities, the figures dipped at least 10 percent.

On average, the number of tickets written by local police departments decreased by 21 percent, a far more pronounced decline than the statewide decrease of 7 percent, according to an analysis of state Registry of Motor Vehicles records and local statistics. The violations examined by the Globe included 213 infractions, from speeding and failure to yield to a pedestrian, to running a red light and driving while intoxicated. The analysis did not include warnings.

''The decline could be for any number of reasons," said David Goldstein, chief of police in Winthrop, where the number of tickets dropped by 10 percent, from 1,115 in 2002 to 1,005 last year. ''Of course one would always like to believe that the message is getting through to motorists, but that's usually not the case. Budgetary concerns top the list, but there are other factors, such as staffing issues. It's also possible that more warnings were issued, resulting in fewer tickets."

Such is the case in Danvers, according to Police Chief Neil F. Ouellette, who attributed the town's 87 percent decline in traffic citations -- the largest decrease in the region -- to a surge in warnings. Police officers there issued 1,725 tickets in 2002, but just 229 in 2004, during the second year of a bitter contract dispute between the Danvers police union and town officials.

''The numbers of warnings and stops are up, but the number of tickets that resulted in a fine are down," said Ouellette.

Danvers officials were critical of the steep decline in the number of traffic tickets issued, which caused a considerable dip in revenues. They called it a ''strike action" and last year asked the state's Labor Relations Commission to direct the police to do more to protect motorists. The town's plea was unsuccessful.

Throughout the region, the area's top cops said that a dearth of funding is the main reason fewer traffic tickets are being written. The economic slowdown of recent years has affected municipal budgets, prompting some communities to trim public safety spending.

In Newbury, for example, the police chief has established strict limits on the number of miles that can be put on a cruiser because the town can't afford the fuel, according to Deputy Chief Andrew Avelis.

The department, which saw traffic tickets decline 16 percent from 494 tickets in 2002 to 416 in 2004, is scrambling to prepare for a 35 percent cut in its budget this year, he said. Last year, the town allocated about $862,000 for the Police Department; this year, the Finance Committee recommended slashing police spending to about $560,000. That recommendation will likely stand, unless voters approve an override on Tuesday.

''I call it the dwindling spiral," said Boxford Police Chief Gordon Russell. ''We're marching backwards. Our staffing is the same as it was back in 1972. We've got just 10 full-time officers and one is out on disability. I can't replace him because there's a hiring freeze. At this point, our budget is not only capped, we have to make cuts. It all comes down to finances. Since 2000, the town has been getting less from the state, and we've been getting less from the town. It makes us less able to put patrolmen on the streets."

Some area police departments -- including Georgetown, which had the greatest increase in ticketing -- have supplemented shrinking budgets with state and federal grants for traffic enforcement programs, including the ''Click It or Ticket" seat-belt campaign, while others are relying on community policing grants and donations from local businesses.

In Lynnfield, for example, the local Rotary Club donated a trailer that monitors passing motorists and posts their speed on an electronic billboard. The trailer is often parked in high-traffic areas, to make drivers more aware of their speed and deter them from traveling too fast, said Police Sergeant John McGonnell.

''As police departments try to determine how best to allocate their limited resources, they must decide what their communities need and desire," said Jack McDevitt, a Northeastern University criminologist and frequent consultant to police departments nationwide. ''In most smaller cities and towns, traffic enforcement is one area people ask police to focus on."

Georgetown Police Chief James Mulligan said traffic concerns are a top priority for his department. ''Most of the complaints that cross my desk are about traffic problems, so we have taken a very proactive approach to enforcement," he noted. ''We take every grant we can and put extra officers out on the street. "

''In my view, quality of life and motor vehicle enforcement go hand in hand," Mulligan said. ''I strongly believe that if you take care of the small things, the big things will take care of themselves."

Brenda J. Buote may be reached at [email protected].
 

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I'd be willling to bet the top three reasons for the slowdown in money fines are as follows:

1. Protracted contract disputes/low or non existant morale.

2. Burdensome extra paperwork for the average traffic stop, thank you N.U.

3. Lack of support from management in regards to baseless civilian complaints due to the issuance of money fines.

Unfortunately the only job action left is a work slowdown, as Danvers P.D. so brilliantly showed. Municipalities must bargain in good faith and keep up with health insurance costs by giving decent cost of living raise yearly so that officers don't have to grovel for a .25 cent/hr. ...... :2c:
 

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''As police departments try to determine how best to allocate their limited resources, they must decide what their communities need and desire," said Jack McDevitt, a Northeastern University criminologist and frequent consultant to police departments nationwide. ''In most smaller cities and towns, traffic enforcement is one area people ask police to focus on."

There goes McDevitt's study, you guys will being doing the traffic study for a least 3 years. The research guinea pigs aren't doing the study correctly, stopping those cars!! lol!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
 
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