Last Modified: Friday, June 08, 2012 1:35 PM
The Welsh Police Department’s lucrative Interstate 10 traffic enforcement detail, which Town Council members have criticized as a drain on resources, may violate state law, a former senator said Thursday.
The council in March refused to allow Police Chief Tommy Chaisson to lengthen TED officers’ details from six to 12 hours, and earlier this week they turned away his request to give officers a choice between the two time periods.
Welsh residents and council members, citing a rash of break-ins and other crimes in town, have questioned Chaisson’s use of the detail, which generated $125,000 for the town’s general fund from June 1, 2011, to April 30, 2012.
Chaisson has said that $60,000 of that has gone to the Police Department for payroll and related costs.
When Chaisson went before the council in March to request longer patrol times, he said, “The hours worked vs. the citations written, I think in my opinion, they are productive.”
He went on to say that if officers aren’t writing one citation an hour, they’re not being productive. Officers who write the barest minimum of tickets in a three-hour period, he said, are pulled from their shifts — the influx of fine money not being enough to cover the cost of the patrols.
Joe McPherson, a former state senator who likened Louisiana to “one big speed trap,” said the traffic detail appears to violate a state law that he sponsored in 2008. The law, R.S. 40:2401.1, prohibits police departments and sheriff’s offices from setting ticket and arrest quotas for their officers.
“No municipality or any police department thereof ... shall ... require or suggest to a law enforcement officer, that the law enforcement officer is required or expected to issue a predetermined or specified number of any type or combination of types of traffic citations within a specified period,” reads the statute.
“No state agency, political subdivision, or law enforcement agency shall offer a financial reward or other benefit to a law enforcement officer which is determined by or based on the number of citations issued.”
McPherson, known in his last years in the Senate as an opponent of speed traps, said Thursday that if the traffic detail doesn’t definitively run counter to the statute, “it certainly violates the intent of the law.”
In 2009, McPherson sponsored a bill, later signed into law, requiring home rule charter cities to forward to the state the money they make on fines given for driving less than 10 mph over the speed limit. Welsh is covered by the Lawrason Act, so the law doesn’t apply to it.
Chaisson on Thursday said the one-ticket-an-hour mark isn’t written into the traffic detail ordinance — that it was his response to a question on his definition of “productive.”
“The way the ordinance is written is basically we tell officers if you’re out there for a few hours and you’re not productive, then instead of staying on town time you’re to stop,” he said.
“We put in the ordinance, if they’re not productive in three hours — and ‘productive’ is use your own common sense — then you’re to discontinue with the TED.”
McPherson said an opinion from the Attorney General’s Office would likely be needed to sort out the legality of the Welsh enforcement program. Chaisson said he knows ticket quotas are illegal, and he insisted the TED — which relies on off-duty officers — doesn’t use them.
He said no one has ever mentioned asking the attorney general for an opinion on the program. “It’s never been an issue in seven years,” he said.
Staff Writer Doris Maricle contributed to this report.
Posted By: Walden On: 6/8/2012
Title: I-10 Speed Traps
I-10 from the Mississippi River Bridge in Baton Rouge to the Texas State Line is one continuous speed enforcement area. Small municipalities along the route each have units out chasing speeders. This is in addition to the Troopers of the State Police doing the same. I don't condone excessive speed but it would seem all of this police presence could be better utilized enforcing the laws within their communities. Leave the State Police to enforce highway speed and not have the varied cities/towns involved in revenue enhancement by speed enforcement.
Posted By: Jeff On: 6/8/2012
Title: Law Enforcement for Profit
Once the police departments start to view enforcing law as a way to raise revenue then they are doing a disservice to the citizens. This is the way of a police state and a pathway to tyranny. Law enforcement is meant to keep order and safety NOT to cover a budget shortfall.
Posted By: Dwight On: 6/8/2012
Title: revenue center
So the police dept is a revenue center, the protection part is just incidental.
Posted By: Dragon On: 6/8/2012
Time to kick his butt out as police chief.........the man has been nothing but a problem for Welsh......he must have something on the boys in Welsh to have kept his job this long......crawfished his way though this interview didn't he.........that's what he does best.