Data we obtained reveals Houston police are writing about 25 percent fewer tickets lately. But while you may be less likely to get a ticket, KPRC Local 2 investigative reporter Amy Davis explains why when you do get one, you’ll be forced to show up in court when officers aren’t.
When you just want to get where you’re going it’s the last thing you want to hear: a police siren blaring behind you. It’s the sound David Tiede heard last March when he was stopped in the 3300 block of Alabama.
“He walks up to me and he’s kind of smiling,” Tiede says about the officer. “And he says, ‘Well, you want the good news or the bad news?'”
Tiede’s bad news was that the officer ticketed him for allegedly running a stop sign Tiede says he didn’t run.
“At that point in time, I ask him, ‘What’s the good news?’ And he says, ‘Well the good news is I’m not showing up in court.'”
Seven months later, at Houston’s Municipal Court, it was good news for Tiede.
“Sure enough, I get called up there,” Tiede recalled. “I’m informed that my officer is not there and the case is dismissed.”
And Tiede wasn’t alone.
Local 2 Investigates obtained a database of every traffic case in municipal court last year. Investigative website Texas Watchdog analyzed the data that revealed one out of every seven traffic citations written in Houston last year was dismissed when the officer didn’t show up in court. Drivers may have gotten lucky, but it cost the city more than $25 million in traffic fines that could have been collected.
Click here to see the top 10 officers with the most no-shows in traffic court.
“It seems like it would be in the best interest of the city and of the police officers that they would want to show up just to see things through,” Texas Watchdog journalist Jennifer Peebles said.
Houston Police Chief Charles McClelland said officers should appear in court.
“Showing up in court is part of their responsibilities,” McClelland told Davis. “Unexcused absences are taken very seriously.”
But McClelland says when officers are on vacation or tied up with other business, court dates aren’t rescheduled.
“HPD is not in the business of issuing citations to generate revenue,” McClelland said. “We’re in the business of traffic enforcement to reduce accidents, injuries or traffic deaths.”
Money was on the mind of City Attorney David Feldman in August when he implemented a new rule ordering all officers to show up in court at 1 p.m. on assigned court days, even though you have to be there at 8 a.m.
“With the more focused appearance time, we are experiencing far fewer no shows,” Feldman said.
Records show the new policy has saved the city more than $250,000 in officer overtime in just two months.
“We’ve expressed our displeasure,” Houston Police Officer’s Union President Gary Blankinship said.
He says the policy isn’t working with officer’s schedules and it seems to have created an unintended effect.
“There’s a certain amount of push back,” said Feldman, mimicking what he believes is the feeling of some officers. “”Well, OK, if we’re not going to be able to get all of this overtime we’re accustomed to, maybe we’ll write less citations.'”
Records show since the new policy took effect, officers are writing far fewer tickets, about 25 percent less. That means less revenue for Houston.
“That has to change,” Feldman said.
KPRC Local 2 checked and the rate of ticket dismissals caused by officer no-shows has dropped by more than half. Feldman says it’s proof the new policy is working.
So what are drivers who end up in municipal court saying?
“I’d love for one city official to go through what we’ve gone through, and I bet you it gets changed,” a frustrated John Crochet told Davis.
Thursday night at 10, more on what drivers stuck in municipal court are seeing and what it could mean for you.