RI’s Worst Speed Traps? Balancing the Budget Through Tickets
Monday, September 16, 2013
However, one revenue source that has seen an increase in recent years comes from traffic citations, and moving, speeding, and stop sign violations.
Pursuant to a FOIA request filed by GoLocal, the City of Woonsocket provided information showing that money collected from the violations was just over $327,000 in 2010 -- and is on pace to be at over $440K in 2013.
See Woonsocket Citation Statistics -- and Revenue Collected -- Since 2010 BELOW
At two locations in particular, the increases range from 157 speeding violations on Cumberland Hill Road recorded in 2010 to 260 in 2012, and stop sign violations at Monument Square from 8 in 2010 -- to 230 in 2012.
"I can assure you the Woonsocket Police Department is not trying to raise revenue for the city," said Woonsocket Chief of Police Thomas Carey. "I have never been given that direction by either Mayor I have worked for."
However, Woonsocket City Council candidate Garrett Mancieri thought the revelation warranted attention. "I believe the Fontaine administration should have told the taxpayers about this increase in fees collected. The City is facing a dire financial situation with many taxpayers struggling to pay their bills and hold on to their homes."
Mancieri continued, "I do not know if this was a strategy or not but I do know our police have been short staffed down to about 80 officers due to budget cuts. Mayor Fontaine should disclose where this extra money has been spent and if this is being done as a way to raise money or not."
City Cites Safety, Not Revenue
Carey continued, "One example of this was Waldo, Florida. The traffic enforcement there was so significant, AAA posted a sign on a billboard to warn motorists." Carey said this was not the case in Woonsocket
Woonsocket Mayor Leo Fontaine stated as well that "revenue is never a factor when we are issuing citations," noting that revenue amounts for the city were increased in part by the introduction of seatbelt violations as primary offenses by General Assembly.
Both noted safety issues -- not revenue -- were at the core of the uptick in citations. Regarding Monument Square, Fontaine said, "The crosswalk at this intersection is probably one of the busiest in the city because of students crossing during the daytime and patron crossings during day and evening events at the theater along with customer traffic for the convenience store."
The issue of safety was "made very real when a pedestrian was killed in a nearby crosswalk just a bit further up Main Street a couple years back," said Fontaine.
Of Cumberland HIll Road, Chief Carey noted, "There are several reasons why traffic enforcement is necessary along the entire stretch of road," citing Fire Department Headquarters, as well as rescue vehicles going to Landmark Medical Center making "traffic enforcement critical to reduce the number of accidents."
In addition, the crosswalk leading to a pedestrian bridge used by Woonsocket Middle School complex was another example that "justifies the need for traffic enforcement," said Carey.
Both locations were a significant percentage of the total stop sign and speeding citations, counting for over half of the city's citations for each category.
For the first six months of 2013, of the 318 stop sign citations listed by the city, over half (160) were at Monument Square, and of the 269 speeding violations recorded, 165 were at Cumberland Hill Road.
"I do not believe these kind of stops for traffic violations should be the main focus of our police department," said City Council Candidate Mancieri. "Our top priority should be on eliminating drugs off our streets. This extra money in fees could have been spent on restoring our street lights which have been out since March of 2010 to keep our neighborhoods safer."
Speed Traps in Perspective
The NMA has a "National Speed Trap Exchange" at www.speedtrap.org which bills itself as the "place to find, share, and discuss speed traps."
"Our goal with SpeedTrap.org is to better inform drivers of chronic locations of speed traps so that they can either avoid those areas or take care. A prepared driver is safer than a reactionary one," said Biller. "There are many apps out there that provide warnings of upcoming speed trap and red-light camera locations (by way of GPS coordinates), but none provide a forum like we do on SpeedTrap.org where the nuances of each location can be shared --- what are the typical tactics used, for instance."
Cumberland Hill Road is listed as the first speed trap complaint in Woonsocket. The entry reads, "Police park in china restaurant at bottom of a decline that changes from 35 to 25 mph. I went to court [approx] 80 percent of speeding fines for this one location. My ticket was written for going 35 in heavy traffic on a single-lane street."
"Speed traps might change driver behavior on a short term basis, but day in day out, they're not changing behavior," said Biller. "How do you make the situation better?
"You don't want to constipate traffic -- you don't want to slow it unnaturally down, but have traffic flow freely but relatively the same speed," continued Biller. "If you've got a slow vehicle clogging lanes, for instance, you'll see an increase in risky lane changes."
Biller pointed to a video put out by the Michigan State Police on the "proper setting of speed limits."
"Safety versus revenue is a difficult question," said Biller. "It seems that a lot of the laws and practices are focused on revenue, but not safety."
For calendar years 2010, 2011, 2012 and the first six months of 2013, GoLocal asked for the following below -- number of tickets issued, total amount of tickets issued, amount in payments -- received by the City of Woonsocket:
1) The number of moving violation issued by Woonsocket police
2) The number of moving violations for excessive speed issued by the Woonsocket police
3) The number of moving violation issued for stop sign violations by the Woonsocket police
4) The number of moving violations for excessive speed issued on Cumberland Hill Road
5) The number of moving violation for stop sign violations or excessive speed at Monument Square/NorthMain Street and Social Street Intersection
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