For the first time ever in Oxford, police officers and public safety assistants can issue civil citations instead of the harsher traffic and criminal offenses.
Usually traffic and criminal offenses come with a $60 fine plus an additional $105 for court costs, as well as a mark on your traffic or criminal record. Now, offenders will receive a civil citation, which consists of only a $60 fine and no record.
Police Chief Stephan Schwein has been on the force 20 years and said court costs used to be as low as $30.
“Overtime everything gets more expensive,” Schwein said. “Court costs shouldn’t be more than the fine, the penalty is supposed to be the fine. It’s out of whack.”
Schwein said police officers are reluctant to give tickets because they are so costly.
“This is a win-win for the police and public,” Schwein said. “It’s a kinder way of doing things. It’s a more palatable way to say, ‘you still need to follow rules but we’re not going to take you to the bank.'”
Sgt. Jim Squance agreed the benefits include lower costs and no record following you around.
Senior Zach Radley thinks the concept of civil citations is a good thing.
“There are more important issues than focusing on what college students do,” Radley said. “It’s waste of time and money and it’s good they (OPD) understand and are not just trying to be our fathers.”
Something unique about civil citations, also known as administrative tickets, are violators can accumulate an endless amount of citations with the only consequence being the $60 fine each time.
Police started writing the civil citations March 15. Schwein said they usually issue 15 to 20 civil citations per day.
The ordinance was passed Dec. 15, 2009 by city council with a vote of 6-1. Schwein said city council members thought this was a good idea because they are ones who receive complaining phone calls from violators.
“When it first came forward I was against it, I feared that making the outdoor furniture violation and litter violation a civil offense rather than a criminal offense might result in more violations,” Kate Currie, councilor, said via e-mail.
Currie said in 2007 outdoor furniture, litter and noise offenses were added as criminal offenses as a way to reaffirm the importance of good student and community relations.
“In the end I decided to trust the strong feelings of the police chief on this issue as the police are the ones out there most directly interacting with the community on this issue and the change allowed them more discretion on their choice of enforcement measures,” Currie said via e-mail. “I am hopeful the police chief is correct and this change can help achieve that sense of community.”
The city council requested an assessment of the new system be made in one year to check its effectiveness.
“We’ll look back and see if it’s working as planned or has any problems,” Schwein said. “We should always take a second look (at things). This is not changing the law but how violations are addressed under the law.”
Squance said violators can still contest their citation in front of an independent hearing examiner.
“We’ve made it user friendly,” Squance said. “You can pay the fine by mail or in person; there is no court time.”
Schwein said a good consequence to come from this change is the courthouse no longer being clogged with minor things.
“It frees the court up for more serious things,” Schwein said.
Schwein said in the future minor moving violations such as speeding or running a right light may be considered for a similar system.