By Besha Rodell
By Patrick Range McDonald
By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
But that "increased awareness" looked much more like "fear of getting days without pay" on the faces of 10 LAPD officers the Weekly surveyed as they left Metro Traffic Court downtown last Thursday.
When asked what would happen if they dismissed a traffic-ticket case because they didn't feel comfortable testifying, they were unanimous: That's not an option anymore. None would speak on the record.
One officer says the new policy "sucks" because it's "hurting the people of Los Angeles."
A patrol officer from the Van Nuys division says traffic cops are encouraged, often at roll call, to issue roughly one book of traffic tickets per day as the "unofficial standard" — about 18 tickets daily.
That would be an illegal quota, which have been struck down by California courts.
"They'll say, 'No, no, there's no quota, but this is the average you have to meet,' " the Van Nuys officer says. "But now, the average has been artificially bumped up by the pressure. ... We have to write tickets for beyond what we think is dangerous."
Given each officer's prolific ticket-issuing — it can mean hundreds of minor, forgettable violations, contested months or even years later — many cases will be impossible for officers to recall.
Doan says the new push to try more cases did not originate from within LAPD, noting, "The only people who asked us to do something about it was the court. And if my recollection is correct, most of the money from citations goes to the court."
Cook claims LAPD's interest is to "use court resources more efficiently," not to juice the system to pour more funds into empty government treasuries.
"The judges don't care about the money," Cook says.
But the judge must decide between trusting an officer's limited written evidence and a defendant's denials or excuses.
And attorney Daniel Brookman, who is at traffic court weekly, says "not guilty" verdicts for defendants have grown increasingly rare in Los Angeles Superior Court — near obsolete, even.
"In traffic court, defendants are presumed guilty unless they can prove otherwise," Brookman says. "And if it's a tie, the officer always wins."
Especially, says L.A. traffic attorney Rodney Nosratabi, because few defendants have the resources to hire a lawyer and don't know the legal jargon to "voice the proper objections."
L.A. Superior Court press officer Mary Hearn says about 1.4 million traffic tickets have come through since January this year, and about one-third were dismissed.But the year before, in 2009, the Weekly has learned, the figures were nearly identical. This means that Judge McCoy’s claims of a surge in ticket dismissals — which he offered without documentation and passed to Trutanich in a casual conversation — appears to be unsupportable, and the subsequent LAPD notice to officers, and that department’s controversial policy change, appear to be based on that inaccuracy.
In fiscal year 2008-09 — the height of the recession, when city, county and state governments were scraping for dollars — citations for traffic infractions jumped more than 150,000 from the previous year, topping 1.83 million, including ticketing by the CHP and L.A. County Sheriff's Department.
The Superior Court's annual report for that fiscal year plainly admits it's about shaking down the citizenry: "With the economic downturn straining municipal budgets, the various cities located in Los Angeles County are turning up the heat on traffic offenders."
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