- Associated Press - Sunday, December 14, 2014

PHILADELPHIA (AP) - A newspaper says lax enforcement of traffic laws in Philadelphia is leaving dangerous drivers on the road.

The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that police are citing far fewer drivers than they did a decade and a half ago. And the paper says officers usually don’t make arrests for outstanding traffic warrants, frequently don’t seize the cars of unlicensed drivers and sometimes don’t even cite them.

The paper says there were more than 818,000 arrest warrants outstanding for moving violations in the city as of September, about one-third of them for serious offenses. A total of $187 million fines remain uncollected. And two-thirds of the 187,000 drivers involved were stopped while driving without a license or on a suspended license.

Court officials acknowledge that warrants can linger as drivers are put on installment plans for their fines, then fail to pay and have their warrants reinstated, the paper said.

Carl McDonald, law enforcement liaison officer for Mothers Against Drunk Driving, said word circulates quickly on the street when there is lax enforcement.

“If warrants aren’t enforced, people learn they don’t mean anything, and they keep driving,” he said. “That puts law-abiding citizens at risk.”

Common Pleas Court Judge Gary S. Glazer, a former federal prosecutor named in December 2012 to overhaul the city’s scandal-ridden traffic court, says police need to enforce outstanding arrest warrants and write more tickets to curb what he calls “chaos on the street.”

“I want to drive and not be afraid of going through a green light and being T-boned,” said Glazer. “And I’m speaking for everybody.”

In 2010, traffic court officials complained that the number of citations had reached a “historic low” and said some officers weren’t making arrests for outstanding warrants.

Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey acknowledged that his focus had been on reducing violent crime rather than traffic, but he said there was no question that police must arrest drivers with outstanding warrants.

“They should be taken into custody, period,” he said.

John McNesby, president of the Fraternal Order of Police, said ticketing has fallen because there are fewer officers to deal with violent criminals.

“We’re down about 300 cops right now,” McNesby said. “You’ve got to pick your priorities. We’re running from radio call to radio call.”

Police spokesman Lt. John Stanford said a key reason police do not make warrant arrests is that traffic court judges typically hear cases from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. weekdays. If the court is not in session, holding scofflaws in the city prison system would be impractical, he said.

“Can you imagine if someone was hurt (while locked up) over the weekend, and he was being held for a traffic ticket?” Stanford asked. “You’d write about that.” Glazer said scofflaws can always be taken before the city’s arraignment judges, who are available around the clock.


Information from: The Philadelphia Inquirer, https://www.inquirer.com

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