Fort Worth Police Write Far Fewer Traffic Tickets

Reason for eight-year downward trend isn't clear

The number of municipal court cases in Fort Worth has plummeted 66 percent since 2010 – a dramatic drop caused by police writing far fewer traffic tickets.

The court handled 478,276 filings eight years ago.

In 2017, after a period of remarkable population growth, the number was just 160,666.

Court revenue - from people paying fines - dropped by nearly $13 million during the same period.

While the court hears misdemeanour assault cases and other crimes, the vast majority of its business comes from traffic citations.

The trend has led to a reduction in municipal court staff and prompted talk of closing the Southwest Courthouse.

"It's absolutely a huge drop,” said court director Theresa Ewing.

The court last year lost 10 positions and could lose another seven this year, Ewing said, adding two judge positions also have been eliminated.

The reason for the dramatic decline in citations isn’t clear.

"It has dropped,” said Chief Judge Danny Rodgers. “And whether that's a change in policing philosophy or maybe we just have safer drivers, I don't know."

Fort Worth police spokesman Sgt. Chris Britt said he could not explain it either but said department policy has not changed.

A number of factors could figure into the downward trend, he said. The city’s growing population means officers may be busier answering more high-priority calls. More traffic officers are assigned to investigate crashes instead of issuing tickets. And officers may simply use more discretion and choose to give drivers a warning.

Ewing said she believes the city overall has changed its philosophy – from code compliance issues to the court forgiving warrants when people make an effort to pay fines.

"We want to be a better citizen with our citizens and not just be punitive,” she said. "We want to give people warnings. We don't want to be that 'always enforcer.' We want to change the way we're doing business."

Data from municipal courts in other Texas cities show Fort Worth is not alone.

Austin, San Antonio, Houston and El Paso also have experienced notable declines.

In Dallas, for example, the number of municipal court filings dropped by more than half in the last eight years.

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