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Fewer Tickets and a Better City?

One West Coast city is just as safe, even though its police force is writing far fewer tickets.

So far this year, Sunnyside police officers have written two-thirds fewer tickets than 2013. Many officers issue more warnings than tickets, except for DUI, driving without insurance and a few other hot-button violations. Police Chief Al Escalera is committed to building relationships with motorists, instead of writing tickets.

The policy has a steep price tag. Municipal court revenue is down over $100,000, and officials may have to cut court staff or hours of operation. But the city is prepared to pay the price to improve its relationship with the community.

Many kinds of traffic tickets, especially things like a regular speeding ticket on a light traffic day on Interstate 5, have little or no bearing on roadway safety. In the last ten years, the onslaught of higher fines and penalty assessments has had a mixed effect on safety in Bakersfield, at best.

California does have one of the highest seat-belt compliance rates in the country, and DUI fatalities are among the nation's lowest. But other statistics are not quite as encouraging:

In a time of declining revenues and cash shortfalls, high penalty assessments are clearly intended to place more money in state coffers. The Sunnyside experiment may offer an alternative model.