In light of the recent economic downturn, several people have inquired about the role of traffic officers in the community. In this column I will address a few misconceptions about my role in the police department and the role of traffic enforcement officers.
The position of traffic officer in the Woodland Police Department is a specialty assignment, just like detectives or our K-9 officers. Some people believe the motorcycle officer positions are filled by the meanest, strictest, or newest officers. None of those are true. To become a traffic enforcement officer, candidates must go through a competitive interview process. An officer’s ability to investigate traffic collisions, knowledge of vehicle code violations, past performance, and work ethic, and ability to interact positively with the public are all evaluated.
I am frequently asked if a quota system is used by the Woodland Police Department. There is no such system. While all officers are expected to be busy with various law enforcement activities throughout their work shifts, there is no specific number of citations an officer is required to issue. Different officers have expertise in different areas such as, narcotics, gangs, traffic enforcement, collision investigation, etc. Motorcycle officers’ primary area of expertise is in the enforcement of traffic laws so that is what they spend most of their time doing.
When I moved from the patrol division into the traffic division I asked if there was an expectation about how many citations I should write. I was told to actively work to help decrease activity that can lead to traffic collisions. This entails both education of the public, traffic law enforcement, and collision investigation. Being a small department many of the officers have additional duties. In addition to being a traffic enforcement officer I am a firearms instructor and field training officer. That doesn’t include the time I spend in court, preparing for driver education classes, or the other miscellaneous daily office work I am required to complete. With the numerous things officers are responsible for there are times when I am unable to conduct any traffic enforcement for a few days at a time. Another aspect of a traffic enforcement officer’s job is conducting investigations of major traffic collisions. Some investigations may take only a few hours to complete and others may take a few hundred hours, depending on the circumstances.
Another misconception is that the City of Woodland is trying to increase revenue by writing more traffic citations. Again this is false. The police department takes a strong stance that we will not participate in enforcement for the purpose of creating revenue for the city. Enforcement with an emphasis on revenue would not help an agency build trust in the community, instantly creates a conflict of interest, and limits an officer’s discretion.
The City of Woodland actually only receives a fraction of the fines paid for traffic violations. The total fine for a basic speeding violation is currently $217. The city receives approximately $31 or 14.4% of that fine. The remaining funds are retained by the State of California. Additional penalties can be added for recent prior vehicle code violations or failing to appear for or pay for a citation. The City of Woodland does not receive any of the funds from these additional penalties.
Some people believe the only way an officer is evaluated is by the number of arrests made or number of citations issued. While these things are viewed at evaluation time there are many other things that are taken into account. Just as plumbers are hired with the expectation that they will fix a plumbing problem, law enforcement officers are hired with the expectation that they will enforce the law. An emphasis is placed on providing the highest quality law enforcement services to our community. Each officer is evaluated annually in fifteen categories: initiative, work product, work quality, planning skills, oral communication skills, written communication skills, problem identification, judgment and decision-making, accepting responsibility, progress toward department vision and goals, dealing with the public, working as a member of a team, appearance, fitness, and officer safety.
One of the ways the police department measures the job we are doing is by looking at our year-end crime statistics. For example a lower number of DUI related arrests can be viewed as the police department not doing its job or that enforcement and education campaigns have been successful. If the police department conducts a DUI checkpoint and does not arrest anyone for DUI, I see that as successful. That means we are making a difference. If we are able to decrease the frequency of serious or fatal accidents, we are successful.
The Woodland Police Department is dedicated to keeping open lines of communication with the community. If you have questions or comments you can visit the Traffic Stop blog by going to the police department website at www.woodlandpolice.org
This is an interactive blog provided by the Woodland Police Department. The blog is aimed at educating the public about laws associated to driving, driver education, and pedestrian safety.