Following the money paid for traffic citations

Not a day goes by that someone doesn't suggest that the law enforcement community should write more tickets to solve city budget woes. But that's not the case, as the bulk of the traffic citation fines paid goes to the county and state. Deputy Chief Steve Clark of the Santa Cruz Police Department breaks down where the money goes using a stop sign violation, California Vehicle Code section 22450, as an example. “Each violation has a 'base bail' amount as set forth in the bail schedule,” he explained. “The base bail for this violation is $35. By statute, under California Penal Code Section 1463.002, the city receives 77 percent of the base bail amount.” That means, on a $35 base bail fine, the city receives $26.95, he said, assuming the violator paid the fine versus completing community service or seeking “some other fine mitigation.” Now, those of you who've been cited for running a stop sign may be saying to yourself, “Wait a minute, I paid way more than $35.” Indeed, the amount you paid was over $130 more because the county and state tack on “additional penalties,” Clark said. Some of the add-ons include:
  • $35 – Base Bail
  • $40 – State penalty required by Penal Code section 1464
  • $28 – State court construction
  • $16 – DNA Identification
  • $20 – County Penalty assessment
  • $7 – State Surcharge
  • $8 – EMS fee
  • $10 – Stow
After all is said and done, the total amount of this ticket, if issued in Santa Cruz County, comes to $164. “As you can see, a total fine amount of $164, nets the city $26.95,” Clark said, noting that that amount would not cover the cost of traffic officer time, records processing, database maintenance and any court time for contested tickets, much less be “a money-making strategy for the city.” “On average, it takes an officer 10 to 15 minutes to complete a citation,” he said. “In a situation where there are constant violations, one immediately following another, at best, an officer can write four to five in an hour. The more realistic average is two or three.” Besides writing traffic citations and trying to head off crime citywide, Clark reminds the public that officers also are responsible for responding to and investigating traffic collisions, as well as following up on hit and run collision investigations at a time when current staffing levels allow for two traffic officers to be on duty during the day shift. “With this staffing and level of responsibility, I am sure you can appreciate the demands on their time,” he said. Research other fines for other traffic violations online at http://www.courtinfo.ca.gov/reference/documents/2011_jcbail.pdf.
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