Sunday, March 11, 2007

Electronic Traffic Tickets - a measure of which courts are busy

When this post was first written, it linked to a page indicating courts where police have issued electronic traffic tickets. Unfortunately it did not give a time frame. Are these numbers for all time? For 2006? We just don't know.

But anyway, the differences can be striking. The Town of Athens had nearly 10,000 tickets, with a population of under 4000 people. The Town of Windham, in the same county, and with a population a bit less than half that of Athens, had 227 tickets. Athens had 50 times as many tickets even though it has only twice the population. More striking for me is the village of Altamont, not far from my home, with only 14 tickets. Altamont has a population a bit higher than Windham. Altamont is also contained within my hometown of Guilderland, with over 30,000 people and over 11,000 tickets. Then there's the city of Amsterdam (New York, of course), with a population of nearly 20,000, and only 196 tickets. The adjacent Town of Amsterdam has a bit under 6,000 residents, and over 1629 e-tickets. Hmm.

My best explanation for these odd numbers starts with interstate highways. Athens has a fairly short stretch of the New York State Thruway (I-87), including a U-turn. Windham is up in the hills and is pretty much not on any path to anywhere other than Windham itself. Ditto for Altamont. Guilderland has a decent stretch of Thruway as well.

One thing to note is that New York State Troopers almost exclusively write e-tickets, while many local police agencies still use handwritten tickets. For an e-ticket, the officer enters the relevant information into a computer in the police car. The computer prints the ticket (and often a supporting deposition), and the officer hands that to the driver. The computer electronically transmits the ticket to the court, and probably to yet another database the government uses to keep track of us. Many of my clients complain that the ticket becomes unreadable. The ticket is printed on thermal paper. They fade easily and in some circumstances large sections will blacken. We see so many of these that we can usually read fax copies of them even when our clients can't read the originals. Also, for some reason the 5s and 6s are difficult to distinguish.

Since the Troopers use e-tickets, it's reasonable to assume that interstate highways would have more e-tickets since Troopers are the ones who police those highways, especially the Thruway where you almost never see any other kind of police.

This doesn't quite fit for Amsterdam. The city does have a short stretch of Thruway (at Exit 27), while the town is on the other side of the river. I'm pretty sure some Troopers write tickets on Route 5 in the town, but you'd still think there would be more on the Thruway at an exit. My only guess here is that maybe the deputies use e-tickets, and don't police the city, while the city police use the handwritten tickets. That might explain it.

The monster courts appear to be both Syracuse City Court (nearly 50,000) and the Nassau County Traffic Bureau (over 80,000). Nassau County's 1st District Court also has 24,000, but it is a heavily populated county and nearly all traffic matters are handled in the Traffic Bureau (the district court probably handles the DWI cases). The Traffic Violations Bureau courts do not seem to be included. I'm guessing that the Syracuse city cops use e-tickets, but that's just a guess.

One thing that's interesting about all this is the disparity in revenue. Imagine how much the Town of Athens must collect from all of those traffic tickets. If the town only makes $10 per ticket, that's $100K in revenue. And if they average $50, well that's $500K, over $100 per resident. By eyeballing the numbers I'm guessing that more than half the courts get less than 100 tickets, while a very small number of them have more than 5000.
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