The Cop Column
December, 2003
Sgt. Rick Hord
Public Information Officer

Do Cops Write Too Many Tickets... or Too Few?

Nobody's shy about their opinion on traffic citations.

Citizens urging us to catch the crazy drivers in their neighborhood keep our telephones ringing. Just as vociferous are those who believe Deputies should concentrate on real criminals.

Why do we write citations?

It has nothing to do with "quotas" or revenue, and everything to do with Voluntary Compliance. Generating Voluntary Compliance is our goal at the Okaloosa County sheriff's Office. We want people to drive safely, even when we're not watching. Experience has shown citations promote Voluntary Compliance. Warnings often don't.

I was recently surprised to hear a complaint from a citizen who claims he never sees Deputies making traffic stops. The fact is, Okaloosa Deputies make a lot of traffic stops... almost 21,000 during 2002. For 2003, preliminary figures are well ahead of even that rate; we could end up with as many as 24,000 traffic stops.

For the record, here are some traffic citation statistics for 2002, the latest year for which complete figures are available:

Total traffic citations in Okaloosa County = 33,018, of which Sheriff's Deputies issued 12,737; the rest were written by municipal and state officers from various departments.

Many citizens refer to all traffic citations as "speeding tickets," but the fact is, most aren't. Only 47 percent (15,397) of those 33,018 tickets were for speeding offenses.

Other than speeding, here are the 15 most common, in order:

Careless driving = 2,305

Seat belt & child restraint violations = 2,177

Expired/improper tag or no tag displayed = 1,455

Driving on a suspended/revoked license = 1,255

No proof of insurance = 1,085

Expired/improper, or fail to display license = 1,037

DUI = 949

Running a stop sign = 852

Failure to yield = 714

Defective equipment = 699

Running a red light = 660

Improper lane change = 320

Improper backing = 244

Leaving the scene of an accident = 223

Violation of driver license restrictions = 195

For about 88 percent of the traffic citations in Okaloosa County, the defendant may either pay a fine, attend Driver Improvement School, or schedule a hearing in court.

The other 12-percent of the traffic citations written in Okaloosa County are for criminal violations. What's surprising to many people is that Driving with a tag expired six months or more, or with a driver license expired four months or more are criminal violations. Others include Racing, Reckless Driving, Fleeing and Eluding, Driving on a suspended or revoked license, and of course, DUI. For criminal violations, an appearance in court is mandatory, not optional. In the case of DUI, the driver can also count on a night in jail; he or she will not be allowed to bond out of jail until they sober up. When those DUI cases get to court, they almost always result in convictions. The statewide DUI conviction rate was 84.4-percent last year. Here in Okaloosa County, it was even higher, at 93.5-percent.. And it was higher still for DUI arrests made by Okaloosa County Deputies, at 95.1-percent.