KYTX CBS 19 VIDEO
Minutes later, Turner hit his siren and gunned his cruiser to catch up to a woman doing 11 mph over the speed limit. The woman thanked him profusely after she got off with just a warning.
The next target, a man doing 16 mph over the posted 50 mph speed limit, didn't get off so easily and got a speeding citation.
“I can't let that one go by, because he was already doing 6 mph over the next posted speed limit,” he said.
The man told Turner he already was supposed to attend driver safety class for another speeding violation.
During his 11-year tenure with the Tyler Police Department, Officer Turner has heard it all from motorists.
Some have accused him of fulfilling a ticket quota, while others claim that police use a certain stretch of road as a “speed trap.”
But Officer Turner called these accusations untrue.
“Quotas are against the law, and we are only enforcing the laws set by the municipality or the state,” he said. “If someone is speeding or committing another infraction, such as rolling through a red light, then they are breaking the law.”
Traffic citations do generate seven-figure revenues for cities such as Tyler, according to research by The Investigators, composed of a reporting duo representing the Tyler Morning Telegraph and KTYX CBS19.
In Tyler in 2012, the 9,428 speeding tickets alone generated $1.8 million for the city. Citations in Chandler last year generated $367,245 for that town, while tickets in Jacksonville generated $529,438, according to records from those cities.
CAUGHT IN CHANDLER
The police department in this town of about 2,700 residents has seven full-time officers and two reserves. They average between 2,500 and 4,000 traffic citations issued annually.
Last year, ticketed motorists paid $367,245 to Chandler, with $153,063 of that going to the state for taxes. There were 3,515 tickets issued in 2012.
Reeves, in his post for 33 years, said his town is not a speed trap, but officers do react to residents' requests for more safety on the highways through town, such as the heavily traveled Texas Highway 31.
Citation revenues, he said, go to the municipal court and the city's general revenue account.
More officers and tighter traffic control result in fewer injuries and fatalities due to accidents, he said.
“The more traffic you have in any area, the more likely you're going to have more accidents, so when you are not doing effective control and you're not trying to slow the traffic down, then the accidents are going to be more major type accidents, with major injuries or, you know, life-threatening injuries or fatalities,” he said.
In Bullard, citation issuance has dropped in the past two years, dropping to 1,800 last year, compared with 3,204 two years earlier, according to information obtained through an open records request.
Bullard Police Chief Gary Don Lewis said he was accused of running a speed trap several years ago, but that claim was unfair.
“Back a couple of years ago when they were putting in the overpass over Farm-to-Market Road 344, (the Texas Department of Transportation) contacted us, wanting us to enforce the speed, because we were having some bad wrecks with construction crews present,” he said.
The department wrote 2,917 citations in 2009, but only 1,647 tickets in 2011.
While that number grew to 1,800 last year, the department issued 3,088 warnings.
Lewis and Reeves said the numbers also do not tell the entire story, because one motorist might receive a bundle of citations.
“We have pulled people over that are speeding, not wearing a seat belt, have no driver license, no insurance and the registration is expired,” Lewis said. “They are going to get multiple tickets for those offenses.”
Reeves agreed, saying someone without a license or insurance should not be driving, and because they are on the road speeding, they are endangering other motorists.
Speed-trap accusations also have been directed at the small town of Brownsboro, where Police Chief Thomas Robertson said he has told officers to enforce more traffic after a rash of serious accidents in recent months.
“My job is safety and security of the people, and in our case, the main threat is serious accidents,” he said.
The numbers show that his four-man department only wrote 2,000 citations in 2012, down from 4,038 in 2008.
“Besides, how can it be a speed trap if we are sitting right on the highway in the same spot officers were sitting when I was a kid growing up here?” he said.
In Whitehouse, Police Chief Craig Shelton said the number of citations in his department has fallen off since he took office a year ago.
In September 2011, for example, there were 110 citations issued by his department. In September 2012, there were only 26.
TO CATCH A CROOK
Turner said that for every 80 to 100 traffic stops, he ends up arresting someone wanted on warrants.
“But last week I had four,” he said.
Last year, a man suspected of killing his ex-wife and kidnapping their child in Tyler was caught in Louisiana after traffic patrol saw him make an illegal lane change.
The child was recovered safely, and the man was taken into custody.
Reeves said one speeder he stopped later was discovered to be a federal fugitive who had escaped custody.
Turner said he has had motorists scream and curse him the entire time of the encounter, but he just tries to remain focused.
“I just think there is something more than a citation bothering them, so I just do my job,” he said.
Lindale Police Chief Dan Somes said the implementation of video and audio has served police and the public.
“Video has saved some officers, because it's all recorded,” Somes said. “When I have people complain on one of our officers for being rude, we just go pull the video. Usually when I say I am doing that, then the complaint is pretty much over, because they know what the video will show.”
Traffic stops can have some entertainment value, thanks to a Rolodex of excuses motorists can produce.
Reeves laughed as he talked about his favorites.
One motorist reportedly roared into Chandler doing 80 mph in a 55 mph zone. Reeves said the motorist blamed his speed on the need to cool off a hot taco held out of the window.
“I laughed, but I wrote him a ticket,” he said.
Alexander accused Tyler police of hiding in areas unfair for drivers.
“Try Rieck Road between Old Bullard and Hollytree — it is downhill and (the) speed limit is 30,” Alexander said. “Coasting you hit 40-45, and cops sit across Hollytree intersection radaring the bottom of the hill.
“Well, at the top of the hill you cannot see them because of the trees. By the time you get to the bottom, they have cranked up the bike and are ready to pull in behind you.”
But Tyler Officer Turner said motorists get used to seeing officers, so they drive slower and pay more attention to the traffic laws.
“Voluntary compliance has been one of the main reasons we are seeing a reduction in citations being issued,” he said.
In Tyler, police issued 15,925 tickets in 2012 for all types of traffic violations, with police issuing 9,428 citations, or almost 60 percent, for speeding alone.
Those speeding tickets in Tyler added up to $1.8 million in revenue for the city.
But Tyler's numbers show that citations being written have been reduced from 2010 and 2011, when officers issued more than 12,250 citations for speeding alone.
Turner said Tyler's stepped-up traffic control through a federal grant effort known as the Selective Traffic Enforcement Program has made motorists here more closely follow the law.