Prosecutor bans Damascus from issuing traffic tickets, citing 'speeding trap'

Prosecutor bans Damascus from issuing traffic tickets, citing 'speeding trap'

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KTHV) -- The Faulkner County prosecutor has bared the City of Damascus from patrolling all affected highways within the jurisdictional limits of the city.

Last June, Prosecuting Attorney Cody Hiland and State Police began investigating after THV11 found that police write an average of 1,500 tickets a year on the small stretch of State Highway 65 that runs through the town.

"Public safety is our number one responsibility. So we don't want to do anything that would undermine the public's trust in the people who engage in public safety,” Hiland explained.

A state trooper THV11 spoke with back in March says a majority of the tickets were written to people not from Damascus and not familiar with the speed limit ups and downs in that area.  When driving through Damascus, the speed limit drops from 60 to 45 miles per hour.

"If your tickets for a particular year exceeded 30 percent of the expenditures for the preceding year, you are presumed to be doing it for revenue purposes not public safety,” Hiland said, adding that in both 2014 and 2015, more than 30 percent of the previous year's budget came from fines and costs from traffic offenses; by definition an abuse of police power and a violation of state law.

According the order issued by Hiland's office, any violation of the sanction by any police officer shall constitute a Class A misdemeanor per each citation issued. The order will remain in place "through the completion of the current prosecutor's term."

The order does not apply to officials responding to citizen calls for assistance, as it only applies to the enforcement of traffic violations.

"I am not unmindful of the need of the City of Damascus to regulate traffic within its jurisdictional limits," said Hiland in a released statement. "The residents of the city should not be forced to endure a lack of public safety service as a result of the police department having improperly abused its police power."

As of now, the Arkansas State Police, The Faulkner County Sheriff's Office, the Van Buren County Sheriff's Office will alternate responsibility for patrolling the area. This patrol agreements will continue until the city secures a traffic light, caution light, or other signaling device to "control the flow of speed of traffic through the city."

The City of Damascus stated that it "categorically and specifically denies all statements and allegations" made by the prosecutor's office. In a statement, the city cites findings from the city clerk that allege revenue figures included in the order were not attributable to "speeding citations or violations of city ordinances."

The city said that "at best" it does not reach the 30 percent threshold required to be deemed a "speed trap."

Damascus mayor L.B. Pavatt has filed a petition for injunctive relief in Faulkner County Circuit Court, hoping potential judicial action will reverse Hiland's order. 

© 2017 KTHV-TV


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