Fairfield Ledger

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Neighbors Growing Together | Mar 22, 2018

Public safety committee approves municipal infraction ordinance

Would lower tickets, keep money in city
By Andy Hallman, Ledger news editor | Feb 23, 2018

The Fairfield City Council’s public safety and transportation committee met Thursday night to discuss a slew of issues, among them the police department’s request to implement municipal infractions.

The committee voted 2-0 to recommend adoption of a municipal infraction ordinance to the full council. Committee members present were Michael Halley and Katy Anderson. Doug Flournoy was absent.

Municipal infractions are an alternate way of handling misdemeanor traffic fines that would reduce the cost to the offender and keep the money locally instead of it going to the state.

For instance, when a motorist is issued a $40 speeding ticket, they must also pay a 35 percent surcharge ($14 in this case) and $60 in court costs to the state judicial branch. That effectively raises the cost of the fine to $114.

If the council passes a municipal infraction ordinance, police will have the option to issue a municipal infraction instead, which means the offender pays only the $40 ticket without the surcharge or court cost tacked on. Plus, the money from the fine goes to the city’s general fund instead of to the state. Lt. Colin Smith said the state keeps 90-95 percent of the fine and returns the rest to Fairfield. Municipal infractions will not be reported to the Iowa Department of Transportation and would not appear on the offender’s driving record.


Public feedback

The police department announced its desire to adopt a municipal infraction ordinance in January, and since then has gathered feedback from the public. Chief of police David Thomas spoke about emails he received from residents both supportive of and opposed to the ordinance. He said the main concern from those opposed is the perception that police are a revenue generator for the city. Residents wrote in to say this creates bad incentives for the police department, and might encourage the city to adopt more municipal infractions as a form of income.

Smith wanted to clarify that the money from municipal infractions goes to the city’s general fund and not directly into the police department’s budget.

Thomas said the city will get “very little back from this in revenue.” It’s hard to know exactly how much it will generate because that depends on whether motorists will continue to commit violations at the same rate, and whether officers decide to issue municipal infractions instead of warnings. That said, Thomas estimated that a municipal infraction ordinance would have generated about $3,400 for the city had it been in place for January.

He calculated this figure by observing there were 177 traffic stops that month, which led to the following outcomes: 80 verbal warnings; 67 equipment violations; 34 citations; and three written warnings. If instead of giving 80 verbal warnings, the police wrote a municipal infraction for 60 of those, it would generate $2,400. If 25 of the 34 citations were written as municipal infractions instead of the normal state ticket, that would generate $1,000.


Many warnings, few tickets

Halley and Anderson asked Thomas and Smith why the police give so many warnings instead of tickets. Smith said officers know that speeding tickets aren’t really $40, that they are in fact $114, and this makes them more reluctant to issue the ticket. Thomas added that traffic violations are a minor offense, and those who commit them are not usually hardened criminals but “normal people,” and this leads officers to prefer warnings over citations.

Halley said the state has not been good lately about funding cities, and he was in favor of anything that “reversed that trend,” which is why he supports the ordinance.

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