NJ League of Municipalities Article
The NJ League of Municipalities published an article, authored by Mr Ehrenburg, in the November issue of the League's magazine 'NJ Municipalities' regarding Ticket Writing and Revenue.
As a retired Chief of Police and now a Borough Administrator, I have an appreciation from both perspectives of municipal service.
Today, statewide, municipalities are trying to find new and creative ways to control their operational costs especially after the reduction and or loss of Municipal State Aid and Extraordinary Aid.
In nearly every community, a key competitor for funds is the police department, which is always in the limelight because of its importance to a community. It provides safety, protection, service and a 24-hour operational schedule which brings around the clock exposure. Critics abound.
Shifting of Values All police departments in their expressed function are an inherit benefit to the core of a community because they maintain order and protect that community. The needs of traditional police services are being questioned maybe more directly in 2008 because of the cost of operations to include; a fleet of police vehicles, fuel, tires and the maintenance of the vehicles. Police Chiefs are questioned at budget time on past practices and challenged to find new and creative ways to reduce costs. Most Chiefs have applied different methods and tried these cheaper methods, when practical, to reduce costs. Traditional attempts include: limiting mileage of officers on patrol, assigning two man cars, foot patrol, bike patrols, and now the use of cameras is being tested as a new tool for protecting and laws in a more cost effective way.
Communities are looking at big ticket items and asking local Chiefs of Police to reduce operational cost mainly by cutting staff through attrition or delaying hiring of replacement officers.
With the support of Governor Corzine, municipal leaders are also looking to share police services and this concept is now being more accepted as a practice to reduce cost and provide equal or better service to communities.
Selective Enforcement There is another way to address budget concerns, which is to bring additional revenue to a community by enhanced selective enforcement of New Jersey Motor Vehicle Code. Selective enforcement is a top-to-bottom effort, of having officers be more diligent in writing more tickets. Officers always have discretion and can decide whether to write written tickets, warnings or give verbal warnings. A Chief of Police can only be successful if the officers under his command are properly funded and committed to the organization and their municipality.
Enhanced enforcement of driving laws can bring a considerably larger amount of revenue to a community if implemented properly and enforced fairly by the police department. This option of enhanced selected enforcement of our motor vehicle laws is viewed by some as positive tool, a life saving measure to reduce motor vehicle crashes, reduce DWl's and keep our motoring public safe. Others see selected enforcement in a negative light. They say that we are picking on people and these enforcement efforts are just "Speed Traps" and a form of a quota system. This discussion of quota system vs. enhanced selective enforcement has been debated during my entire 28 years of law enforcement service and continues in newspapers today.
Quotas vs. Performance The standard work day of employees is eight hours but police departments have migrated from the standard eight hours to ten hours and now 12 hours is considered the gold standard by most departments. Officers assigned to 12 hour shifts enjoy a favorable work schedule but would be hard pressed to convince supervisors that they did not observe any motor vehicle violations in their 12 hour shift. With proper reinforcement of their Sergeant/Shift Supervisor, a well established policy can enhance revenues through selective enforcement. An additional benefit to a department that has an aggressive selective enforcement policy is a safer motor vehicle environment.
However, individual officers have discretion and can not be ordered to issue summons as a matter of practice. Therefore, the Chief must be able to appeal to his officers' commitment to the organizational goals of the department. The balance of officers' compliance and commitment usually has a lot to do with the relationship of the Chief of Police and his or her officers. Equally important is the Department's relationship with the municipality, the Business Administrator, the Mayor and the elected officials that employ them. This relationship is always in a constant state of flux, healthy one minute and contentious the next.
A recommended practice to reduce conflicts, deter legal challenges and ensure proper actions of officers is to have a well written, implemented Standard Operating Procedure. An adopted manual for officers to follow removes all the guess work out of the equation and gives officers goals to achieve. In these written policies, there are many functions that officers use to improve their individual performance, maintain internal consistency, and identify training needs. This evaluation process establishes a job task for each function and describes the necessary skills to reach the predetermined goal for the officers to follow. These Standard Operating Procedures are road maps for a department to measure and gauge officer's performance.
Also included in the manual with these areas of measured performance is the function of motor vehicle enforcement, a primary component of municipal policing. Motor vehicle enforcement has evolved through the years, from an actual number of summonses being directed per month to the practice of using the percentage of the officers' work task analysis. In either method, old or new, the leadership of a police department must direct the activities of its officers to make sure that officers don't neglect other areas of performance. Enforcement of motor vehicle laws is usually 25 percent of most officers' time. Because it is the primary exchange of contact with the public, these exchanges can be positive and or negative depending on the outcome. One factor that causes this exchange to be negative is the cost of the summons. The State of New Jersey has added to this conflict because it has greatly increased the cost of motor vehicle summons in areas where officers would be able to give motorist a break for speeding and rather write them for not having their credentials in possession. The basic speeding/careless driving ticket cost $85 plus points. In contrast, a summons for not having your credential with you, like no drivers license in possession, no registration in possession, and no insurance card in possession is a minimum fine of $180. The law also requires that when you don't have your insurance card in possession, it is mandatory for the officer to appear in court and to pay the cost of court which is a minimum of $33.
Cause and Effect A key ingredient to having the Chief of Police lead their officers in this vein is an open communication with the Mayor and Council members. The Chief of Police must know that the Mayor and Council are supportive of the Chief in all phases of his or her operation and that they value his or her input and goals for the department. In all relationships there must be a give and take exchange between parties and the Chiefs personal salary, budgets, manpower, and vehicles are some of the necessary components needed to be resolved for that relationship to be achieved. This support trickles down to the officers in the department and their needs, like labor contracts, equipment, training and opportunities for advancement being taken seriously. A mutual respect for each others position will greatly enhance the community and be a key ingredient to success of that community in solving problems in concert.
I have seen communities that blame their Municipal Court, the Judge and Municipal Prosecutor for loss of revenues. The court system only processes the summons produced by the police officers. The idea that the Judge and Prosecutor have something to do with police officers writing fewer summonses is bizarre.
In sharp contrast, I have witnessed communities that have pulled their individual departments together as one collective unit, with each department providing their best to that community. That community's police department has increased production by over $100,000 in additional revenues without adding staff, without expensive tools or equipment, just "respect" and support for its police department and members. This can be achieved and become a win-win for any community on a multitude of levels, including its police department and ultimately the taxpayers