South Congaree, SC (Paul Kirby) – The public has often perceived small towns as speed traps that make big money writing speeding tickets. That is a misconception that can easily be proven untrue with written records of exactly what the police are doing. These records are public and usually are provided at the monthly town council meeting.
State citations are numbered and accounted for. This is so no one can doctor the records of any department. Simply put, you can’t just have some tickets misplaced or misused and not have someone at the state begin to ask questions.
Another fact that debunks the misconception that traffic tickets equal money for towns is how money for these fines are divided. There’s a page on the SC State Treasurer’s website that gives an area’s clerk of court instruction on how to pay the state their portion of each fine. Sometimes, a violation’s fine may be a mere $45.00. By the time the state adds their assessments on top of that fine, it may be more than twice the original amount. There are also straight pull-outs, or money removed from a fine upfront and sent to the state before the writing agency every gets a single penny. This is usually done by the court that tries the case.
Let’s look at a regular traffic stop where a driver is doing 15 mph over the limit. If you are nice and you don’t cop an attitude with the officer, almost all will drop the ticket down on the side of the street to speeding 10 mph or less. They don’t have to, mind you, it’s up to each officer. South Carolina is a true speed state meaning 1 mph could get you pulled over and on your way with a ticket in hand. You take your ticket for about $76.00 from the nice man or woman with the gun, roll up your window cursing like a sailor who slammed his hand in a hatch, and drive on, slowly. If you just go in before court and pay the $76.00, less than $20.00 dollars of that goes to the agency who wrote the ticket.
Where does the rest of that money go, you ask? Referring to that website, some might go to any one of the following agencies or expenses. Just some are: Indigent Defense, Judicial Department, Victim Assistance, Mental Health, Prosecution Commission,Highway Patrol, DPS, Magistrate, Juvenile Justice, Law Enforcement Surcharge, SLED, Corrections, Municipal, Attorney General, and even the Forestry Commission depending on what you did! (See Court Fines Breakdown in PDF)
If you look at the Town of South Congaree’s Police Report for April 1st thru 30th 2019, you’ll see that there were 225 total citations written and 168 calls for service. From those public interactions, 20 people were arrested, 30 arrest warrants were issued, and 18 felony drug warrants were issued. Only 17 citations were written for just speeding. The rest were:
23 Driving under suspensions
16 Operating uninsured
1 Stolen car recovered
2 Open containers of beer
21 Simple possession of marijuana
35 Possession of drug paraphernalia
A few other citations were for various other violations throughout the month like non-compliance of zoning laws. This clearly isn’t a speed trap. Sure, on some of these violations, the police could just look the other way. I bet you’d be screaming at the top of your lungs if one of those uninsured cars bumped yours in the Food Lion parking lot while the driver was swatting at the fire that fell off his blunt and dropped in his lap.
If a small-town Police Department like South Congaree’s were to try and fund their department with a speed trap, the math would make your head spin around your neck. South Congaree’s 2018/2019 Police Department Operating Budget was about $420,000. If they tried to fund that with $76.00 tickets and the roughly $20.00 per ticket the town keeps, they’d have to write 21,000 speeding tickets a year or about 404 tickets per week. This is over 57 tickets a day. Last month they wrote 16 traffic tickets the whole month. Better get busy guys, you’re falling a behind with your little speed trap quota!
If the 17 speeding tickets they issued last month averaged $76.00 each and the town keeps about $20.00 per ticket, they've kept approximately $340.00 for all their trouble in April. That wouldn’t fill up the tanks of all the patrol cars once. Speed trap, not! Behave yourself and just drive on through those small towns safely.