Cops and Courts, News

Police procedures when enforcing traffic laws

MORGANTOWN — When law enforcement pulls a driver over, police aren’t trying to fill a quota, area law enforcement officials said.
“When they’re on duty, they’re enforcing the law,” Monongalia County Sheriff Perry Palmer said of his deputies. The most common reasons people get pulled over are speeding and distracted driving.
Palmer and Chief Ed Preston, of Morgantown Police, both said neither of their departments operate under a quota policy for traffic violations.
Preston said some officers are tasked to specifically look for violations and the department has targeted campaigns for times they traditionally have problems, such as “drinking holidays.” Otherwise, officers are expected to enforce traffic laws as part of their regular duties.
The Sheriff’s Department has an increase in call volume with the State Police not having sufficient manpower. Palmer said all traffic accidents and everything that happens on the interstate is handled by his department now.
Palmer said his deputies use their judgement and have full discretion over whether a driver gets a warning or a citation. Preston said the terms ticket and citation can be used interchangeably and are sometimes referred to as traffic summonses.
Morgantown Police officers have the option to issue a verbal warning, a written warning, a citation or to physically arrest subjects who were pulled over, depending on the situation, Preston said.
Verbal warnings are appropriate when the violation could be credited to ignorance of a unique local law or an equipment violation the driver is unaware of, Preston said. Written warnings are given for minor offenses such as expired registration of less than 30 days, a broken taillight or an expired motor vehicle inspection of less than 90 days.
Citations are given for violations that jeopardize safety and efficient vehicular movement, including parking violations, moving violations or equipment violations, Preston said.
There are situations that require an officer to arrest someone who was pulled over for a traffic offense, both said.
Palmer said driving under the influence and driving on a license suspended for DUI are the most common traffic-related reasons to arrest someone. Preston said other reasons include failing to sufficiently identify or supply required information, reasonable suspicion the violator is wanted for crimes elsewhere and failing to respond to a citation.
Speeding violations require the officer to consider six types of conditions when deciding if they should issue a citation or a warning, Preston said. They are: Weather conditions, traffic conditions, traffic crash data, traffic volume reports, roadway conditions and citizen or other types of complaints.
Morgantown does not have traffic cameras; they are prohibited in West Virginia, Preston said.
From March 31, 2017, to April 1, 2018, Morgantown Police issued 5,165 traffic citations, according to information provided by Preston. The most commonly cited offense was no insurance, with 1,242. Expired motor vehicle inspection was the second most cited offense with 626 and expired registration took third place with 563 citations.
In that same time period, Morgantown Police also issued 6,159 written warnings. The department does not keep track of verbal warnings, Preston said.
The Monongalia County Sheriff’s Department issued 1,309 tickets in 2017, according to information provided by the department.