Maricopa traffic cops will back off of motorists

August 1, 2011

Motorists driving through Maricopa can breathe a little easier now that the police department has revamped its policy for citing traffic violations.

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.


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20 Comments

  1. rionhondo168 says:

    I’m shocked that Derek Merritt was made Chief of anything. I was at Rio Hondo Police Academy in Whittier, CA. in 2003. Then Officer Derek Merritt was dismissed as an instructor for abusing police recruits. In temperatures over 90 degrees he made us do pushups on hot blacktop causing third degree burns on our hands. When the screams of recruits were heard, Merritt ignored them, told us to shut up. Many had to seek medical attention afterwards. Merritt also had a rep of being a backstabber. He would be friend a recruit, listen to their problems, and then call the recruit’s department and get them fired. It was rumored he was forced to resign from El Monte Police Department for unprofessional behavior. Didn’t the city do a background?????????????

    (6) 8 Total Votes - 7 up - 1 down
  2. willie says:

    Would someone in Maricopa a post sign at the city entrance saying the following.

    In Big Letters:
    “Donate $20 to cross the City of Maricopa”

    Optional, In Small Print:
    “Donate to avoid a CS/ Creative citation, There are many many many laws, no one is perfect, the law is the law, and the official duty presumption of official favors Maricopa PD!”

    (2) 2 Total Votes - 2 up - 0 down
  3. Paperboys says:

    Are they talking about Maricopa or Morro Bay?
    “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.”
    Sure sounds like Morro Bay to me.

    (7) 11 Total Votes - 9 up - 2 down
  4. Cindy says:

    What about all the citizens that have been SCREWED by these GANG BANGERS in the uniforms? The citizens lose and the PD walks away with a slap on the wrist? That PD needs to be broken up, they are a cabal that should be made an example of and all the ripped off citizens should be reimbursed. I hope the law suits start flying. When citizens have to start putting up billboards they have lost all control of their local gov. Why keep them around with a promise to be good, boot them out the door.

    (14) 22 Total Votes - 18 up - 4 down
    • Stunned says:

      Patrolman are employees of the chief. They can ratchet up or down the tickets on any given day for seatbelts or saint christophers or whatever it is that pleases the chief….you need to replace the head when bad things are happening except in this case he’s basically just over-enforcing enforceable stuff and he’s irritated the townfolk (rightfully so I’d think).

      (11) 15 Total Votes - 13 up - 2 down
      • willie says:

        What makes you think they were righteous, deserving citations!
        Because the law is the law?
        A few or even one miles over the limit when a patrol car speeds up on them from arear?
        A little weaving cause by distraction of the officer tail gating you?
        Passing the limit line while the light is still yellow, citing a 22450CVC.
        Or 50mph in a 55mph zone being too slow?
        For sure these LE relatives of city officials exclude the prima facie speed adjustments!
        Who the hell has time to go back to that CS town to fight a CS citation with their town judge who also has $ signs in his eyes and against their town’s finest in uniform.
        So they reap in the fine, the courts gets traffic school fees, the TVS make a little money, and so do the insurance company if you don’t go to TVS.
        Don’t forget their buddies in the Tow business who timely knew to open up shop with an up front promise of 25% (thats a lot) to the city.
        I say fire the chief and all officers participating (just as in the Rodney King beating) fire every damn one of them and never ever allow them the public trust again (they need to get a real job)!

        (5) 7 Total Votes - 6 up - 1 down
        • Stunned says:

          Well it stands to reason that if hundreds were cited and they all appeared before the same judge and the same judge found them to be valid and enforceable then there’s your proof cowboy…..done! All of those little things you mention are infractions which 99.9% of police choose to overlook for the benefit of what’s right for us all.

          These yahoo’s were told to ramp it up and they did. I’ve been through there probably 25 times in the last 6 months and have never had a problem nor will I because I don’t violate the law (mainly) and really do drive like a nun in that town.

          …..realizes he just jinxed himself!! lol

          (-1) 1 Total Votes - 0 up - 1 down
    • Dogpound says:

      You are ridiculous Cindy. You are so anti cop that no matter what cops do they are wrong. I am not defending them in this article, but “GANG BANGERS in uniform”? Please, really? I hope you never call 911. How are law suits going to start flying? Sounds like they rec’d legit tickets, although very C/S. Guess what: you can’t have a broken license plate light, you can’t have objects hanging from your mirror, or cracks in the windshield, etc. All illegal. I would blame the Chief as he directs his Officers. Instead you blame all cops everywhere. Besides, tickets are NOT revenue makers for a City. They get a very very minor percentage. Towing cars is far more lucrative. Writing these tickets, while legit, only pisses people off and over doing it is not okay. Bashing all cops for this is also, NOT OKAY.

      (-1) 3 Total Votes - 1 up - 2 down
      • mkaney says:

        I’m gonna go with Cindy on this one… For one, the police have NO problem classifying other people in the same way, in fact, who most often USES the term “GANG BANGER.” And interestingly enough, plenty of police in San Luis Obispo didn’t feel a bit of remorse for playing big time games to steal our money. They knew the city has plenty of money… they figured, why not get their share. And if any did feel guilty, that didn’t stop them from sharing in the loot. I WORK for that damn money, and if I don’t pay it, they will come to my house with a gun and remove me. I don’t care if it was done with courts, unions, and contracts, and that it’s a different person collecting the money, budgeting the money, whatever… stealing is stealing So if Cindy wants to express a little frustration, especially since cops have had such a cushy situation the last few years, TOTALLY OKAY.

        (1) 1 Total Votes - 1 up - 0 down
  5. willie says:

    “The law is the law, said Maricopa Police Chief Derek Merritt”
    “I gotta be honest…yes,” he said. “The city’s budget was dying.”

    What is the difference between Maricopa and Bell.
    One is greed, the other needy.
    They all belong in prison.

    What a hell of a racket (or business)

    (15) 23 Total Votes - 19 up - 4 down
    • Stunned says:

      While I’ll agree that excessive is just what the name suggests, you can’t deny that Maricopa isn’t a little meth cook oil boom gone bad type of thing. They’re doing it a favor by leaning on the little creeps and the decent people feel safer I’d imagine.

      (5) 15 Total Votes - 10 up - 5 down
  6. asthecrowphlies says:

    I do not travel eastern SLO County or western Kern County too often . OK I know , I could stop reading the article and google it , yeah right . Would it have killed you to put the highway number or mention something familiar near this town ?

    (11) 13 Total Votes - 12 up - 1 down
    • rallyraid says:

      It would be the “hells little brown acre” on 166 and 33, the one with giant bill boards that say STOP the Maricopa PD’s harasment of motorists. Locals have told stories of unnecessary confiscating or passer bys cars etc for minor infractions. Locals also told us the PD was quite the unruly corrupt bunch. To “protect and serve” themselves apparently.

      (17) 19 Total Votes - 18 up - 1 down
    • MaryMalone says:

      My mother-in-law lives in Tehachapi, so we drive from the South Central Coast through Maricopa to Tehachapi fairly frequently.

      Highway 166 starts in Guadalupe, going east. When we drive to Tehachapi, we access it off of 101 just before you reach the Santa Maria River. If you head east on 166, you’ll go about 75 miles before you reach Maricopa. If you keep going east on 166, you’ll hit Highway 5, which is where we turn off to head north before we cross the last range of foothills to reach Tehachapi.

      Before you get to Maricopa, Highway 33 (coming from the South) runs into 166 and they merge until you reach Maricopa.

      Between the 101 and Maricopa, it is a gorgeous drive. Before you get to Maricoopa, there is a turn-off on the left to Soda Lake. There is a cool old gas station there which is no longer open. Here’ s an image I found.

      http://static.panoramio.com/photos/original/45715279.jpg

      Over the years my MIL has lived in Tehachapi, we drove by it at least 100 times before we couldn’t stand it anymore and, after finding out it is one of the few remaining stopovers for the Great Pacific Flyway bird migration, the next weekend we went to see what Soda Lake was all about.

      Here’s a URL to a picture of cranes flying over Soda Lake:
      http://www.sbnature.net/img/soda_lake_cranes_880.jpg

      We stayed in Maricopa. Ahem.

      Soda Lake is a trip. First of all, when you get out of the car it is so quiet your ears feel funny–I mean, there isn’t a sound.

      There are a LOT of rattlesnakes. And a lot of holes in the ground.

      When people in Maricopa found out we were going to visit Soda Lake every last one of them said “There are a lot of rattlesnakes, be careful.” Man, they were not kidding. And some of them are BIG.

      I almost stepped on one who was sleeping near a bush but it just slid under a small bush next to where it had been sleeping, and disappeared. My husband said the snake was about 4′ long. I couldn’t understand how that huge snake had gone under a bush that wasn’t more than a foot wide and a foot high. So I peaked under the bush–my husband about had a heart attack–and saw it had gone down a hole in the ground.

      Here’s a URL to a page with an image of the Northern Pacific Rattlesnake:
      http://calphotos.berkeley.edu/cgi/img_query?enlarge=0000+0000+0105+0651

      Well, I acquired a new respect for the many, many holes in the ground everywhere one looked. Some were for rodents, but some also housed rattlesnakes.

      A Pronghorn antelope leaped right across the little Soda Lake road. They are big! I had no idea. Here’s the URL to an image of a Pronghorn antelope.

      Soda Lake is very alkaline. It’s not the kind of lake that most people want to go visit. But if you cannot resist the quirky and unusual, this is well worth the trip.

      If you go, stop in at the Nature building. If the same woman is still running the place, she is so cool. She can’t weigh more than 100 pounds, and is less than 5’3″, but she is as tough as nails. One Fall when she arrived on site to open up the building (the nature center is closed during the unbelievably hot summers), she was imeded by the large, grumpy badger living under the elevated walkway that reaches the door. We asked her what she did, and she said she got rid of the badger. When we asked her how, she said “I went around to the back shed, got a broom, and shooed it away.”

      Anyway, that’s the long answer to your question, and advertisement for Soda Lake.

      (2) 8 Total Votes - 5 up - 3 down
      • Typoqueen says:

        Thanks for the story Mary. I have learned that someone has stayed more than the two or three minutes that it takes to drive through Maricopa and I have learned that I will never go to Soda Lake.

        (2) 4 Total Votes - 3 up - 1 down
        • hotdog says:

          I travel that way a bunch, and can ratify much of what Mary said. The road to Soda Lake reminds me of some of the worst in Mexico! I stop at Tinas cafe much of the time, hoping she will be in a good mood. A year of so back she was grumbling about the cops, and she is a local.

          This cop stuff reminds me of the stories of the two bit towns in the South, where the redneck cops tried to snag northerners, hippies and other malcontents for money. They should all be put in jail. These ‘pigs’ (like some here in our dear little county) make our ‘free’ country seem like a police state-not good.

          (4) 4 Total Votes - 4 up - 0 down
          • MaryMalone says:

            Hotdog, thanks for reminding me.

            To those wanting to visit Soda Lake: under no circumstance should you take the Elkhorn Grade up or down to Soda Lake.

            Take the paved road that branches off at the old gas station. My husband is a fearless driver (some of the places we go, he has to be), but he was frightened going down Elkhorn Grade. And there is no such thing as turning around once you’ve started, either.

            (0) 0 Total Votes - 0 up - 0 down
        • MaryMalone says:

          HAHAHAH! Okay, that’s funny. I can certainly understand how Soda Lake isn’t everyone’s dream trip. The worst part of it was staying in Maricopa. This is how bad Maricopa is: we yearned for the high life and sophistication of Taft.

          I was talking about Soda Lake this evening, and we are going to visit again this fall.

          (0) 0 Total Votes - 0 up - 0 down
  7. rogerfreberg says:

    Nothing turns the public against city government like revenue generating schemes like this.

    (19) 23 Total Votes - 21 up - 2 down

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