Police run out of tickets on St. Thomas
Published: July 25, 2012
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ST. THOMAS - If you're ever going to break traffic laws on St. Thomas, now may be the ideal time.
The V.I. Superior Court, which normally provides police officers with the ticket books they use to issue traffic and parking citations, has been out of the books on St. Thomas since mid-June, Court Administrator Glendia Caines said Tuesday.
It remained unclear Tuesday whether that means patrol officers have been unable to write tickets. St. Thomas-St. John Deputy Police Chief Dwayne DeGraff said Monday he first heard about officers going without the books "about a week or two" earlier.
"I was just told that they didn't have any," DeGraff said.
He said that without the ticket books, officers cannot enforce traffic laws.
"They're out there giving warnings without a ticket," he said.
He pointed out that the Superior Court is in charge of ordering the books and deferred further questions to court staff.
Police Department spokeswoman Melody Rames said she could not speak to DeGraff's comments but denied there was a shortage. Rames said St. Thomas-St. John Police Chief Darren Foy, who did not return a call for this story, told her that when officers who went to the court to get ticket books discovered the court was out of them, the officers were able to use reserve ticket books stored at the police station.
"There are no officers without ticket books," Rames said.
When asked how long police expect these reserves to last, considering the court has already been out of ticket books for about a month, Rames would not give a specific date range and repeatedly said there is "no issue" regarding ticket books in the Police Department.
So far, St. Croix Police Chief Christopher Howell said he had not heard of any of his officers being short on ticket books.
Caines, the court administrator, said that the court's shortage is due to a back-and-forth between the court and a mainland printing company that dates back to January. That's when court officials began redesigning the territory's traffic tickets to reflect higher fines established in new statutes, to include a space for a violator's mailing address as opposed to only a physical address, and to incorporate other tweaks in the language and instructions, according to Caines.
She said an initial order based on these changes went to the printing company by the end of January. The ensuing proofing process "took an unusual length of time," Caines said.
Caines acknowledged that any officers being unable to write tickets could have a direct impact on the government's revenue, as all traffic fines go into the general fund.
"Of course it would have an impact to that revenue, which we do so desperately need," she said. "But we wanted to get it right the first time. We wanted to get it done and done correctly."
Clerk of the Court Venetia Velazquez said officers in the St. Thomas-St. John District filed 990 traffic tickets in April, 1,061 in May and 960 in June.
Superior Court Presiding Judge Darryl Donohue Sr. said the court "recently" placed an order with a St. Croix company to get some temporary tickets as soon as Friday.
"The resolution is Friday," he said. "We are going to have ticket books so if in fact the officers didn't have books or ran low or ran out, that should be able to bridge that gap between getting the permanent ones from the printer."
Donohue said the revamped tickets for St. Croix were "nailed down" earlier in the year.
"In St. Thomas, it took a little longer," Donohue said.
Caines said the permanent replacement ticket books are scheduled to arrive in August. Both she and Donohue said they did not know offhand the name of the printer sending the new books.
Caines said people should not take the court's lack of ticket books as a license to break traffic laws with impunity.
"I want to apologize to the Police Department that we ran out of tickets and they are not able to fulfill their duties right now," Caines said. "I know the public might be happy when they read this story, but there are probably a couple of officers still out there with ticket books, so this is not to say that anybody's off the hook."
- Contact reporter Lou Mattei at 714-9124 or email email@example.com.