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Jun 4, 2012 5:35 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Big Drop In Tickets Issued By Southampton Village

Jun 6, 2012 11:58 AM

The number of traffic and parking tickets written by Southampton Village Police and traffic enforcement officers dropped by more than a third from 2010 to 2011, dealing a substantial financial blow to one of the village’s most lucrative sources of non-tax revenue.

According to Village Police Chief Thomas Cummings, the number of traffic tickets, not including parking violations, written in 2011 was 2,455, a 36-percent decrease from the 3,843 tickets written in 2010. Revenues brought in by the Justice Court during that same period declined by more than $155,000, from a record high of $592,175 in the 2009-10 fiscal year to just $437,020 in 2010-11.

It was the second year in a row that the department saw a drop in the number of tickets issued—something that Chief Cummings said was a result of not having a devoted traffic enforcement unit comparable to the one the department had in 2009, when 4,669 tickets were written, nearly twice as many as in 2011. A steady decrease of tickets issued can be seen from 2009 to 2011. The effect holds in the offseason as well: In January 2009, 426 traffic tickets were written; in January 2010, 282 tickets were written; and in January 2011, 151 tickets were written.

According to Chief Cummings, the department had two full-time and two part-time dedicated ordinance inspectors and one full-time traffic control officer in 2009. Since then, two police officers who were largely responsible for heavier traffic enforcement in 2009 are on long-term injury leave and have filed for disability retirement. Donald Poremba, also a well-known traffic enforcer, died in February 2011.

“These three individuals generated a lot of activity in the court system,” Village Mayor Mark Epley said. “Because we didn’t replace some of these officers, we didn’t have specific traffic enforcement detail.”

In the same vein, police staffing levels have decreased in recent years for “simple financial reasons,” Chief Cummings said. In 2009, there were 33 officers, which, according to Chief Cummings, allowed for an increased ability to focus on traffic enforcement. There are now 25 active officers. The decrease in the size of the force and the gradual increase in calls for service, which is now at approximately 14,000 per year, means more time spent on answering calls than on traffic enforcement compared to 2009, he said.

Both Mayor Epley and Chief Cummings say they have noticed an increase in traffic enforcement this year. In January 2012, 197 traffic tickets were issued, a slight increase from the same month in 2011.

“I have asked my officers to spend more time on traffic enforcement. They have responded, and the summons volume has picked up,” Chief Cummings said. “Summons levels will not rise to the 2009 levels without a roughly equivalent level of police department staffing. But we should be doing our best with the staffing we have, and we are working on doing that.”

Mayor Epley said he expects the village will make some adjustments to staffing in the future, but said he still wants to see the same level of safety the village had in 2009.

“We have incredible people in the police department,” Mayor Epley said. “They had a focus, and now we’re looking for other officers to step up with the same type of focus.”

Southampton Village Justice Barbara Wilson said that unpaid fines are another factor contributing to the court’s loss in revenue. In some cases, Justice Wilson orders community service for those who say they are unable to pay a fine. “Some people just can’t pay,” she said. “The economy is bad, people are losing their homes. I sincerely believe that when people ask for community service in lieu of fines, that they can’t pay. We don’t want to create a debtors’ prison.”

She also said losses are incurred when people do not pay their fines and “stick their head in the sand,” but could not give an estimate on how much of an impact this has had on court revenues.

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Is it possible that after giving out so many tickets, that people are more conscious of driving and parking legally?
By Mets fan (1501), Southampton on Jun 8, 12 10:25 AM
By pstevens (406), Wilmington on Jun 8, 12 10:59 AM
1 member liked this comment
Hope this doesn't provide further impetus to reduce speed limits far below what is safely acceptable. Dropping Hill Street from 30 to 25MPH was just another revenue generation opportunity, in my opinion. On slow nights I've had the SVPD tailgate me closely on that road, in what seems like an attempt to make me nervous and do something illegal. Had I been tailgating anyone else that closely I could have been cited for reckless driving.
By Funbeer (273), Southampton on Jun 8, 12 2:16 PM
4 members liked this comment
There's a lot more money to be made in parking violations. Forget the UTT's. The state gets a big cut of that anyway. The village should not be relying on this money anyway. All it leads to is quotas.
By BruceB (142), Sag Harbor on Jun 8, 12 8:29 PM
Having just attended traffic court, my observation was that the venue was filled to overflowing, and that most of those there were for minor offenses, and the number excluded those who simply paid the fines by mail. With the focus of the article on revenue generation rather than traffic safety, I do wonder what the Village's Plan B is, if it were the case that people actually did abide by the rules and strictly follow the speed limits to the letter, which in itself would be an interesting form ...more
By M. O'Connor (147), Southampton on Jun 11, 12 6:56 AM
Seriously, Is that really supposed to be the primary function of the Police Dept., as a revenue source ? What ever happened to serve & protect ? What a JOKE !
By Bill in Riverhead (190), Riverhead on Jun 12, 12 8:32 AM
This comment has been removed because it is a duplicate, off-topic or contains inappropriate content.
By Bill in Riverhead (190), Riverhead on Jun 12, 12 8:32 AM
This comment has been removed because it is a duplicate, off-topic or contains inappropriate content.
By M. O'Connor (147), Southampton on Jul 2, 12 10:27 PM