A change in the way the Mission Police Department approaches writing tickets to motorists is factoring into an area that may surprise some residents: The city’s annual budgeting process.
During a work session on the 2015 budget, Assistant City Administrator Laura Smith told the council that the city was planning on receiving $100,000 less from traffic ticket fines than it would in 2014, and that the council would need to plan for that reduction as it puts together its financial plan for the coming year.
Smith was emphatic that the city administration had no input into how the police department enforces traffic safety in the city, but said the council needed to understand how the department’s actions would impact the city budget.
A Kansas City Star article last year raised the ire of many residents when it revealed that the Mission Police Department was writing tickets at a much higher rate than any of its surrounding municipalities.
But the department has made a philosophical change in the way it approaches traffic enforcement, Smith told the city council Wednesday, leading to a reduction in the number of tickets issued — and the amount of fine money making its way into the city’s coffer.
From a high of 20,745 traffic and parking tickets written in 2009, the city’s ticketing rate has dropped by nearly 50 percent. Last year, Mission police wrote 10,724 tickets — a significant drop from the 15,360 it issued in 2012. The city took in $1,528,186 in traffic ticket fines in 2013. It has $1,450,000 budgeted for 2014 and $1,350,000 currently estimated for 2015.
Councilor Suzie Gibbs asked Smith and City Administrator Gerry Vernon point blank whether the city administration gave the police a quota of how many tickets the department should write.
“The rumor mill is out there that we give them an ultimatum,” Gibbs said.
“We have never from upstairs said, you will generate ‘x’ number of dollars in fines,” she said. “That would be illegal. What we have said is that, if you are going to have a philosophical shift [that leads to a reduction in fine revenue], we need to know so we don’t do it without a plan to react and respond to that.”
Some members of the council made clear that they didn’t think the police department should go out of its way to reduce the number of tickets the city issues just because it’s an unpopular policy with some residents.
“Just because people complain about it doesn’t mean we should compromise safety,” said Councilor Amy Miller.