Maricopa traffic cops will back off of motorists
August 1, 2011
The town of 1,200 in western Kern County had turned into a trap of sorts where in the last two years hundreds of motorists were cited for small infractions such as hanging a necklace from the rearview mirror, cracks in the windshield, or driving with a burnt-out license plate bulb.
In one case, a motorist was cited for traveling 50 mph in a 55 mph zone.
The law is the law, said Maricopa Police Chief Derek Merritt, who supports his officers but admitted that public pressure has made the department reconsider what some might consider its overzealous enforcement of traffic codes.
Earlier this year, a Kern County grand jury committee recommended disbanding the city’s police department, saying the MPD lost track of 94 citations and formed an inappropriate relationship with Bakersfield-based Randy’s Towing, a company that opened a tow lot in town and gave a piece of the action — about 25 percent — to the city.
Merritt said the grand jury never made it clear that the 94 missing citations were “unissued.” He’s not making excuses, he said, but the difference is significant between citations that have been issued to motorists and losing track of tickets that were blank.
When asked whether a huge increase in cars being towed — beginning in 2010 — was intended as a way to generate revenue for the city, Merritt didn’t hesitate.
“I gotta be honest…yes,” he said. “The city’s budget was dying.”
Visits from the American Civil Liberties Union, a scathing grand jury report and even pressure from some on the city council made it clear Merritt had to make the problem go away. He had to make changes.