Data provided to the Business Journal by Long Beach Director of Financial Management John Gross shows that annual moving violation revenues generated by Long Beach Police Department (LBPD)-issued traffic citations decreased by more than $2.3 million between 2009 and 2018. Data showed that the decrease occurred steadily over the course of 10 years, bottoming out in 2017 at $865,262 before an uptick last year to approximately $1.05 million.
These revenues feed into the city’s General Fund, rather than directly back into the police department, according to LBPD Commander Eric Herzog, who serves as the department’s chief of staff. He explained that this is not a revenue stream the police department depends upon – it does not set any kind of revenue goal for traffic citations, he noted. However, he qualified, “Anything that impacts the General Fund obviously impacts our budget, so I can’t say that we ignore it.”
Gross said that the funds “are not allocated for any particular use.” While no specific services are impacted, he explained via e-mail, “A decline in or even no change in a revenue source (no increase) is problematic as that means it is not even keeping up with inflation – most of our costs go up at least with inflation.”
According to Gross, moving violation fine amounts are set by the state government, with additional penalties applied by counties and county courts. “If an individual wants to fight the ticket, there is a court process in which a judge can dismiss the case or deem the offender guilty,” he explained. “The offender then works with the court to submit payment for the full fine amount or can develop a payment plan. Judges can also practice discretion in lowering the fine amount to a level that is affordable for the driver. The court then issues payment to police departments. . . . We are simply given a check each month from the various courts in the region.”
The number of citations issued decreased from 2009 to 2015 and have increased since then. In 2009, 72,106 moving violations were issued by police officers, according to data provided by LBPD. That figure bottomed out at 18,788 in 2016 and has since crept back up to 23,936 in 2018.
The number of “budgeted” motor officers assigned to the traffic detail was 36 in 2009. In 2018, that number was 31. The reduction is mostly due to attrition, according to Klein, who estimated that there are 17 actual officers currently assigned to this detail. Although he said the department would be able to provide the past three years’ worth of actual traffic officers versus budgeted officers, LBPD Public Information Officer Arantxa Chavarria later explained that the information could not be provided “as we do not have a method for us to reliably obtain the statistics in a timely manner.”
Asked why traffic citation revenues have decreased during the past 10 years, Klein and Herzog cited a number of possibilities. “Basically, we set our focus to increase engagement with the community more,” Herzog said. “We look at what are the needs of our community, and what are the resources we have, and how do we allocate those resources to meet the priorities of the community. All of that leads to kind of a shifting focus. And I think, as a result, there are not as many citations being given.”
Klein noted that LBPD is now more data driven in its approach to traffic control than in years’ past, which could have some effect on citations. Herzog pointed out that this is evident in LBPD’s partnership with city traffic engineers. “We have developed a better than ever relationship with engineering and the traffic engineer,” he said. “He and Lieutenant Klein will frequently have conversations saying, ‘Hey we are seeing accidents here and an unusual number of speeding incidents here’ . . . They will put out a traffic trailer that allows them to collect data on what’s happening in that area, and then we look at different solutions.”
The police department handled 205,000 calls for service from local residents in 2018, versus 181,000 in 2009, Herzog pointed out. Officers initiated 415,000 service calls on their own last year, bringing total service calls to 620,000. “It’s a different dynamic now of now [that] we have to balance because [when] we have more calls for service [it] means we are going to have less time for officer initiated [calls],” he said.
Herzog concluded, “There is always the balance thing we do with what funds we have available. In an ideal world we’d have a lot of officers doing traffic. But we always have to balance out the needs of the department and where the resources are. It’s not up for me or even the chief to decide. It’s up to the city council and how they allocate budgets.”