Eleven percent of traffic tickets issued in Vermont dismissed because of illegible handwriting, other factors

Keith Flynn, commissioner of the Department of Public Safety. Photo by Anne Galloway

Keith Flynn, commissioner of the Department of Public Safety. Photo by Anne Galloway

More than 9,000 traffic tickets last year were dismissed by police or the court, in some cases because officers’ handwriting was illegible, Department of Public Safety Commissioner Keith Flynn said this week.

The number of traffic fines issued statewide is declining, while the percentage dismissed, either by the court or police, is rising.

In fiscal year 2013, law enforcement officers — game wardens, sheriffs, municipal police and state troopers — wrote 83,681 traffic tickets, according to data from Flynn. Of those, 11 percent were dismissed.

In fiscal year 2011, 9 percent of the 91,743 tickets written were dismissed. In FY2012, 10 percent of the 86,676 tickets were dismissed.

“That’s a substantial number of tickets,” Flynn said.

The ticket decline and the dismissals have had a negative impact on the budget of the Vermont Center for Crime Victim Services, which provides compensation for victims.

E-ticketing is one option officials are considering to cut down on ticket errors, but an electronic system could take at least two years to implement, officials say.

State police, the agency Flynn’s department oversees, last year wrote approximately 28 percent of the tickets in the state. The rest were written by local departments, sheriffs and other law enforcement agencies.

Flynn last week originally told lawmakers in the House Appropriations Committee that 20 percent of all tickets written were illegible. He later clarified his remarks, saying 10 percent of tickets written were dismissed, by courts or the state.

Court officials Friday said they process all tickets they receive. The court can dismiss a ticket if a hearing magistrate rules in favor of a driver, or if an officer settles with the driver and dismisses a ticket, for example.

“Every complaint that is filed with the court is processed,” said Gabrielle Lapointe, clerk of the court at the Vermont Judicial Bureau, which has statewide jurisdiction over civil violations including traffic tickets.

Police may also choose not to file a traffic ticket complaint, but the court doesn’t receive a record of that, Lapointe said.

The Department of Public Safety is trying to determine why some tickets were dismissed, Flynn said. His data came from the Governor’s Highway Safety Program, the state police and an electronic ticketing study committee.

Lawmakers have included language in the budget bill this year instructing the court administrator’s office to gather information about the number of traffic tickets written in Vermont, how many were not able to be processed and the amount of fines uncollected as a result, said Rep. Peter Fagan, R-Rutland, a member of the House Committee on Appropriations.

Rep. Anne O’Brien, D-Richmond, said law enforcement should be held to the same standard set for other state agencies that have struggled with quality control. She compared the ticket dismissal rate to the high error rates reported for the food stamps program, and, she said, the cost of the errors should come out of law enforcement budgets.

The decline in traffic tickets has had a ripple effect. A portion of the revenue from the $47 surcharge on traffic tickets and court fines funds the Vermont Center for Crime Victim Services.

A December 2013 report to the Legislature said the center next year expects a budget gap in part because of the declining number of traffic tickets.

The Victims’ Compensation Fund, which the Center for Crime Victim Services administers, expects to end this fiscal year with the lowest balance in recent history and in FY2015 default by $411,000 as a result of declining traffic ticket revenue and the center’s growing expenses, according to the report.

Flynn said electronic ticketing would cut down on the number of tickets that can’t be processed because of bad handwriting or a pen that freezes in cold weather.

“Any time that you have human interaction with a piece of paper it provides an opportunity for something to go wrong,” Flynn said.

Electronic systems allow officers to scan a driver’s license and registration. The information automatically populates an electronic form and uploads to a database.

One impediment is the lack of Internet access in some parts of the state, Flynn said, but cost shouldn’t be a concern.

“We expect that over a period of time that there would actually be cost benefit to it,” Flynn said.

Robert Ide, commissioner of the Department of Motor Vehicles, Friday also said electronic ticketing is smart.

“It doesn’t matter how much it’s going to cost, it’s going to save,” Ide said.

Laura Krantz

Comments

  1. rosemarie jackowski :

    Maybe it is time for schools to get back to the basics and teach penmanship, cursive writing – and what about how to diagram sentences.

  2. Tom Pelham :

    This is not a new issue.

    At the suggestion of the Douglas Administration, the 2007 Budget Bill authorized the Tax Department to “study the potential for the conversion of the department of taxes into a department of revenue“ and craft “a feasibility report, including issues to be considered and, if found feasible, a proposed implementation time line as to the consolidation of revenue collection functions ……. submitted to the house and senate committees on government operations, appropriations, finance, and ways and means on or before January 15, 2007.”

    The above report was presented to the Legislature in a timely manner. It identified 31 separate non-Tax Department revenue streams, including the Vermont Traffic Ticket Center’s civil and municipal ticket processing effort, as potential candidates for cost effective reforms. The report presented legislative language to allow the development of implementation strategies for these reforms to be phased in over a three year period.

    With regard to the Traffic Ticket Center, housed in the Judiciary, the report found that in fiscal year 2006 a receivable of over $16.2 million remained uncollected, a significant portion of which was associated with the inability of the Judiciary’s ticket scanning/hand data entry operation to read the illegible writing of issuing officers.

    Unfortunately, the Legislature did not move forward with the recommendations of this report.

  3. Jacob Miller :

    The annual number of traffic tickets issued is declining so the solution is to spend money on equipment instead of training? Is the objective “public safety” or revenue enhancement to fund the Victim’s Compensation Fund?

    The expense of a traffic ticket is the smallest cost incurred for a driver, as it also impacts their automobile insurance rate, credit score plus the “points” added to the driver’s license record.

    If revenue is needed for the program, they should seek to raise a fee or tax, but that will not happen during an election year.

  4. rosemarie jackowski :

    There is another ‘traffic’ issue that should be discussed… new rules for renewing drivers licenses. The poor take another hit. Probably, those with passports are not affected.

    Even those who were born in the US and have lived here all their lives – and have had a drivers license for decades, will now have problems with documentation.

    I guess this is a new rule coming down from the Feds…but really. The CIA and NSA knows what everyone just said in their last E-mail – but they can’t figure out where we were born???

    File this under: Bureaucratic Harassment.

  5. Jim Barrett :

    Maybe it is time for the state to not make budgets dependant on how many tickets are written. We didn’t know there was a quota system but this proves it…..write tickets or else!

    • Bryan Ashley-Selleck :

      I have to agree 100% with Jim Barrett! There is obviously a quota that needs to be met! So my question is this? How can you fund budgets based on fines? If no fines get committed then there is no budget!!! The system has become complacent on us breaking a law or committing a crime to fund themselves! The BIG PICTURE? The system cannot afford to have crime and breaking the law in any way go away. Even if it wants it too! Because then the law goes away! And we know they DO NOT want that. $$$$$ machine!!!

  6. Ellen Fiske :

    yeah, our economy would completely fall apart if we were to all drive safely. Actually, no it wouldn’t- the police would just invent untrue reasons to write tickets. Actually, they already do that. That explains a few things…

  7. Rod West :

    Go electronic. It will pay for itself just in the reduction in workforce needed to enter the tickets into the system. It’s 2014 and we still have clerks entering tickets?

  8. Ivan Shadis :

    “Any time that you have human interaction with a piece of paper it provides an opportunity for something to go wrong,”

    Stellar quote!

  9. Charles Samsonow :

    A prime example of what the Idiot legal system hires. If you can’t write you basically can’t read – either . If you can’t read or write or both – how can you trust someone to act appropriately when they confront or arrest a citizen. The Upper Valley of VT & NH have a ton of idiot cops like that – and the idiot Lawyers and gullible stupid Judges to boot.
    Idiot judge junior in that area is a prime example – wouldn’t know the damn truth if it stood in front of him. But yet the stupid legal system there- hurt – maim – kill – and torture people intentionally – all the time and answer to no about that. I’m talking about the good honest hard working citizens that pay there taxes – not the crook sor criminals

  10. Steven Farnham :

    Sometimes, I just have to stand in awe of the news media’s lack of critical thinking, thoroughness, and follow-up.

    Am I the only one wondering why a decrease in the number of tickets being written is a bad thing? Is it possible that the populace is behaving better? Or is it possible that the police have adopted a new set of priorities, harassing the general public less for minor infractions, and focusing on harder crimes (as they should be). Why didn’t the reporter ask about this?

    A couple months ago, our Governor announced to the entire nation that Vermont is the most drug-infested slum in the country – could it be that law enforcement is already on top of that, and spending less time bothering busy hard-working people because their car has an unlit side-marker? Why didn’t the reporter ask if this (or similar) is the case?

    Could it be that there has been an increase in calls for something like domestic disputes/abuse? By their very nature these kinds of calls take more of the officers’ time, but don’t necessarily result in proportional increase in citations issued. Why didn’t the reporter follow up with this question?

    Several people are advocating the adoption of an E-ticket system, even though it may not work where there’s no internet access. Does that mean that once such a system is implemented, areas with no internet will be underserved, or not served at all? How come the reporter didn’t ask about this?

    Enforcement of traffic law is likely the easiest there is. Most “perps” are compliant citizens. They don’t fight, argue, or resist. The officer hands them a ticket, no matter how petty the alleged offense, and the citizen pays it because paying it is cheaper than fighting it. This isn’t law enforcement, it’s pencil-pushing administrative work from the seat of the cruiser.

    Commissioner Ide and others want to further burden taxpayers with the cost of an E-ticket system. Let’s buy a colossally expensive electronic means to replace pen and paper to help law enforcement officers shoot fish in a barrel.

    Poor handwriting used to be something that would garner poor marks in grade school. Now this is being passed off as a legitimate excuse for poor law enforcement? Oy Vey! Next thing the officer is going to say to the Judge? “Sorry, your Honour, the goat ate my traffic ticket.” If they can’t operate an ink pen, how are they ever going to learn how to use the E-ticket system? Why didn’t the reporter ask the commissioner if maybe there were more important issues to address than poor penmanship? How come the reporter didn’t tell the commissioner that his complaints just don’t stand up to the straight-face test?

    If every instance of illegible handwriting got the cop(s) who wrote the ticket(s) a couple weeks off without pay, I’ll bet they’d learn grammar-school quality handwriting in a New York minute. Supply them with antifreeze in their ink pens, and get on with it!

    If a reporter is simply going to parrot what Commissioner Flynn says, throw in few stats from the Judicial Bureau, and a quote from a state Rep who happens to be on hand, that’s not journalism – it’s just a bleeping press release!

  11. Todd Spayth :

    “It doesn’t matter how much it’s going to cost, it’s going to save,” Ide said.

    How comforting! With that mentality, we should should just skip this and go right to ROBO COP! So long as the programmer sticks to the law (as written) it should take ALL of the guesswork out of the equation.

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