Avondale Police set new record for writing tickets

Posted by Dan Whisenhunt August 22, 2014

Avondale Estates officials told the public in February that the City Commission needed to amend the 2013 budget by $151,000 because traffic ticket revenues were less than expected.

While budget documents show that the city fell short of the $450,000 in projected 2013 citation revenue, the city’s audit for 2013 shows Avondale Police Officers set a new record for writing tickets. According to the audit, officers wrote 4,368 of them in 2013, the most citations issued since 2004.

“Fines and forfeitures increased $78,380 due to increased traffic enforcement,” the audit says.

Here are the number of tickets issued by Avondale Estates police since 2004, according to the city’s most recent audit:

2004 – 1,879

2005 – numbers not available

2006 – 1,134

2007 – 2,065

2008 – 3,062

2009 – 3,127

2010 – 3,155

2011 – 2,965

2012 – 2,929

2013 – 4,368

Records on file with the Georgia Department of Community Affairs show that Avondale ranked eighth out of 65 Class E municipalities for revenue collections from fines and forfeitures reported in 2013. Fines and forfeitures is a category that includes traffic tickets. Class E municipalities, as defined by DCA, are those with a population of 2,500 to 4,999 people. Not every Class E municipality reported 2013 revenue to DCA, but the majority of them did.

City Manager Clai Brown and other administration officials did not return messages seeking comment. Mayor Ed Rieker announced in May that the city had decided to stop responding to requests from Decaturish, citing unspecified complaints about coverage an April 12 fire that claimed the lives of two residents. Since that time, Brown has said very little to this publication. The city has a communications manager, Kelly Brooks, who makes $55,000 a year. She is not allowed to speak to the media, however.

While many recent stories about Avondale Estates have required a records request and haggling with the city’s lawyers, the information about traffic tickets was published in different places on the city’s website.

To download the most recent audit, click this link (the info about traffic tickets is on pages 15, 22 and 94): 2013 City of Avondale Estates CAFR

To download budget information presented at the city commission’s February meeting, click this link (information is contained on pages 54 through 58): Website Agenda Items February 20th 2014

In February, prior to the city’s decision to limit its communications with this publication, Brown said Avondale had seen a drop in ticket revenue because the city had been without a traffic cop for three months and because there were a large number of people on probation because they couldn’t pay the fines.

Documents provided at that meeting show the city budgeted about $450,000 in anticipated traffic court receipts, but only received about $300,000.

Mayor Ed Rieker explained during a February work session that the budgeted number of traffic receipts is, “not a number we expect in terms of revenue. This number we have to stick in there to understand what our costs might be. It’s not a judgment in terms of a good thing for performance.”

City Commissioners approved the budget amendment. Attempts to reach them for comment were unsuccessful. City Solicitor Josie Stevens said she has noticed an increase in the amount of traffic tickets written by police officers, but she doesn’t know why there’s been an increase.

“I have no idea,” she said. “I think that your question would be more properly directed to the chief of police or the city manager. I just take what I’ve got.”

Police Chief Gary Broden did not respond to a message seeking comment.

Here is a chart that shows how Avondale’s 2013 fine and forfeiture revenue measured up to similarly-sized. The information was obtained via the Department of Community affairs, but in some cases information for other class E cities was unavailable.

Avondale F & F chart 1

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About Dan Whisenhunt

Dan Whisenhunt is editor and publisher of Decaturish.com. https://www.linkedin.com/in/danwhisenhunt

View all posts by Dan Whisenhunt

  • underscorex

    AE is only EIGHTH? I’m honestly surprised.

    I had to look Ashburn up on a map – wow, that’s a traffic light, a Dairy Queen, and Buford T. Justice.

  • wkp

    Dan, It’s not the number that’s important, it’s the percentage. Do you
    have any information on traffic flow through Avondale vs. the other
    cities you list? My observation is that traffic through Avondale has
    increased substantially in the past few years (try driving west on
    Covington at 8:30 a.m.).

    • No.Most roads running through AE belong to the county. Once I have those traffic counts, I’d have to foia every ticket that AE wrote and compare the addresses with the traffic counts, unless they have some database that maps this out for me that I’m not aware of. Incidentally, I’ve been trying to work with AE on a story about road conditions for some time, but they refuse to answer my questions about that, too.

      • wkp

        I was thinking more of commercially available vehicle count data – the kind that Oakhurst Realty would use to pitch clients interested in leasing space in the Tudor Village. Doesn’t matter where the person who was ticketed lives, only that they passed through the city limits. Same for the other towns on your list – what percentage of drivers passing through were cited?

        Ashburn’s $ amount seems kind of crazy for the size of that ‘burg. Are there state laws that limit how much a municipality can charge for a moving violation?

        • Don’t think any state law limits this. It’s not so much about the vehicle count data as it is going through 4,000 + tickets. Getting those would come at an enormous cost, unless – as I mentioned – there’s a database that sifts this data. I think vehicle counts will be the easier of the two to obtain.

          • wkp

            According to an Adams Realty listing (http://adamscre.catylist.com/listing/QdHLmpaOR4U/89-N-Clarendon-Ave-Avondale-Estates-GA-30002), 18,871 vehicles a day travel on N. Avondale Road (Covington Hwy).

            Let’s give them the benefit of the doubt and assume that’s only week days. That means there are 4.9 million vehicle passing through the main drag of Avondale every year. 4,368 tickets represents 0.00089 percent of those vehicles (it’s even smaller if you consider vehicle traffic on all of the other streets, such as N. Clarendon). To me, that’s a pretty small number.

            Why does it matter where the person who was ticketed lives?

          • I’m not talking about where they live. I’m talking about where the tickets were issued. That’s what you’d have to match with the traffic count to get an idea whether the tickets are being issued in the areas with the highest traffic counts. One would assume those numbers would correlate, but there’s no way to know for sure without cross-referencing the data. That would be incredibly time consuming if I had to match each ticket issued with each map, unless, of course, they organize it this way and I am unaware of it.

          • wkp

            Ahh, I see. I was simply taking the macro view – that the ticket was written within the city’s jurisdiction, so it doesn’t matter *where* in the city it was written. It would be dang-nigh impossible to get an adjusted traffic count for every street in the city and cross-reference the number of tickets written on that street. Anyway, I’m not sure what it would tell you, other than busier streets (likely) have more tickets written on them. Seems obvious to me, but we all know how simple, attention grabbing numbers don’t tell the whole story.

            And that is my concern. Your headline says that the city set a new new record – which is true – but provides no context for whether or not the record is meaningful. A single number, without contextual reference points, doesn’t tell us much. Is 0.00089% (or less) a significant change from prior years? Does it mean the city’s police are being more – or less – aggressive in writing tickets?

          • The audit indicates that the tickets were the result of increased traffic enforcement. While setting a new record in and of itself is interesting, what I find even more interesting is that only a few months before the release of the audit, city leaders amended the budget because they said traffic revenues were lower than expected. But according to the city’s own numbers, the police officers have written more tickets than they ever have. As I said in this story, I invited the city to help me understand how this could be so, but they declined to return messages seeking comment.

          • wkp

            Then perhaps a headline along the lines of “Avondale traffic tickets: Tickets up, revenues down” would have more accurately reflected the point of your article.

          • Wilbur

            Dan, It is easy to understand why traffic revenue was lower than AE expected, even with record number of citations. City leaders budgeted for an even larger increase in citations and the revenue from them. In other words, they budgeted for even more tickets. Also, keep in mind that revenue is not collected off of every citation. People go to court and can have the citation dismissed. Also, there are often times where police might write two or more citations (for a DUI or a wreck), but a judge will decide to dismiss one or more of them, or the Solicitor will dismiss one or more.

            The only way to know for sure is to find out the disposition of each citation which would be an exercise in futility.

  • Mac

    Covington Hwy. and Clarendon, the main roads through Avondale, are a majority either residential or a school zone. Avondale PD post up in very prominent and visible locations. If you’re speeding through or driving through with expired tags, no tags, or doing something else you shouldn’t, don’t complain about getting a ticket. Slow down, do what you’re supposed to and the number of tickets shouldn’t be something you care about.

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