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Do NY Mills police give out too many tickets? A look at area traffic enforcement

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At last month’s New York Mills City Council meeting, several citizens voiced their concerns over the rate of traffic tickets issued by the town’s police department.

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In an effort to determine whether New York Mills residents were truly being ticketed at an unfairly high rate, the Focus compared ticketing data from the New York Mills police department to data from neighboring communities.

The data revealed that, between August 2012 and July 2013, New York Mills police officers did not give out tickets at a higher rate than officers in Perham and Wadena, the two communities immediately to the east and west of New York Mills along Highway 10.

Officers in New York Mills issued 0.034 citations per ‘estimated officer hour’ – that is, for every hour a given officer was on duty, he or she issued 0.034 citations or roughly 1.36 tickets every 40 hours.

‘Estimated officer hours’ were determined after extensive interviews with law enforcement and city officials, while ticketing data was provided by the police departments themselves or by studying records provided at public city council meetings.

For comparison, an officer in Perham issued 0.037 citations per estimated officer hour, which comes out to 1.48 per 40 hours. Officers in Wadena issued the same number as New York Mills.

Officers in Frazee (0.007) and Sebeka (0.005) issued tickets at a comparatively lower rate, a difference that could be explained by their relative distance from Highway 10, which is one of the most heavily traveled highways in the area.

The ‘tickets per estimated officer hour’ metric attempts to measure the leniency of a given department – if New York Mills officers have been ticketing their citizens at an unfair rate, the number of tickets they’ve issued per hour while on-duty would be significantly higher than in nearby towns. Wadena is immediately to the east on Highway 10, and Perham immediately to the west, and their ticket rates are comparable to New York Mills.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that the concerns voiced at last months’ town hall meeting are without merit, however.

New York Mills officers issue more tickets per capita than their neighbors – 0.211 vs. 0.129 in Perham, 0.054 in Wadena, 0.031 in Frazee, and 0.022 in Sebeka.

Additionally, they work more estimated officer hours per capita than nearby towns (6.071 vs. 4.266 in Frazee, 3.803 in Sebeka, 3.484 in Perham, and 2.99 in Wadena).

For broader reference, the Otter Tail County Sheriff’s Department issued 0.013 tickets per estimated officer hour, 0.031 tickets per capita, and worked 1.129 estimated officer hours per capita.

Population figures for these calculations were acquired from the 2010 Census.

What the data shows is that no single New York Mills officer handed out citations with any more frequency than their counterparts along Highway 10. However, with more officers per capita than other neighboring towns, New York Mills Police Department has issued a greater number of tickets, per capita.

What this data does not account for are complaints unrelated to the ticketing rate. Citizen concerns about overall ‘fairness’ of the tickets issued, and of officers being ‘too nitpicky’ are not directly addressed by this data.

Monthly ticketing patterns

Per month, New York Mills, Perham, and the Otter Tail County Sheriff’s Department as a whole had high numbers of issued tickets in the fall and early winter, low numbers in December and January, and peaks in May. Similarly, Wadena saw a slump in issued tickets during the winter, but did not have the same spikes in warmer months. Sebeka and Frazee both issued only a handful of tickets each month, making any patterns in their traffic enforcement difficult to recognize.

When asked about this potential pattern, Otter Tail County Sheriff Lieutenant Matthew McGuire speculated that the cause could be a combination of natural changes in seasonal traffic and strategic use of additional overtime shifts which focus on traffic enforcement.

“There are peaks and valleys every year,” he said in a phone interview after stressing that he was only speculating. “A lot of it has to do with seasonal traffic. There are two factors: seasonal traffic, and the extra project overtime shifts. The focus on those shifts would be traffic enforcement…They’re usually focused around holiday and weekend traffic, but not always.”

McGuire went on to say that groups of extra project shifts, such as the state’s “Click It or Ticket” campaign, are employed in different seasons.

“Around Labor Day there’s usually one, around Christmas there’s usually one, in the spring time around Memorial Day there’s usually one, and on the Fourth of July,” he explained.

As for seasonal traffic, he speculated that “traffic just naturally picks up in our area. If you take a county road in January, you may not see another car, even in day time. If you do that same road in May, there’ll be a lot more traffic. It’s just the way it is in our county.”

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jbowe
Joe Bowen, a 2009 graduate of St. John's University, is the newest member of the Perham Focus team. He enjoys writing, rugby, and hamburgers.
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