Houston officers on a ticket-writing spree?
HOUSTON When traffic is flowing in Houston, we really move. Some days it seems like Houstonians have a love affair with their gas pedals. It's on officers like Mark Elliott to slow us down. "Everybody always wants to be out front," Elliott said. And from what we can tell, HPD's been abnormally busy lately. Last month, HPD handed out more than 109,000 traffic tickets. That's 3,500 a day or 147 tickets every hour for a month. It's also 41,000 more tickets than they wrote in February. We checked records all the way back to July 1999, and HPD has never even been close to that number. "My first reaction was that is incredible," HPD assistant chief John Trevino said. Writing 109,000 tickets in a month was a little surprising to Trevino. We first talked to him before the March figures came out; everything then was showing a slower than normal ticket writing year. Trevino told us HPD was focusing officers more on crime prevention and less on ticket writing as a way to slow down property crime. "If traffic citations are down as a result of that, it's not that bad of a thing," Trevino said. But it was costing the city money; number crunchers at City Hall are expecting $2 million more in ticket revenue this year than HPD is delivering. Studies across the nation show cities often write more tickets in troubled budget times. So is HPD writing an all-time high number of tickets to raise cash for a cash-strapped city? "That's a good question," Trevino told ABC13's Ted Oberg. "And this is where I can give you assurance from this administration and from the assistant chief in the department, that directive has not gone out." Officer Elliott told us he's not lowering his speeding standard to up the stats. "If we come out here and do 10 over, in some instances, you'll probably going to be close to shutting the freeway down," he said. And he doesn't even like the idea of balancing the budget on the backs of speeding drivers. "I personally don't feel the city should base revenue strictly on tickets," Elliott said. But HPD is at a loss to explain why the numbers are higher than they've ever been. One that is clear, you're being watched, and the target's never been bigger on the speeding Houston driver. According to city numbers, the increase alone from February to March should bring in an extra $1.2 million. While the police department can't explain the whole increase, they do say traffic officers are doing more and an overtime program may be contributing some. The police union chief didn't believe the big number. He hadn't heard of a big increase or any policy change. But we checked three times, and everyone says it's true. We'll look again next month and see what's happening.