Data reporting

Debunking quotas, policing patterns and traffic crackdowns for Weber County

April 7, 2018
Debunking quotas, policing patterns and traffic crackdowns for Weber County

 By SHEILA WANG • Standard-Examiner staff

WEBER COUNTY - Local law enforcement agencies pulled over at least 40,000 vehicles across Weber County in 2017, and a majority of them ended up in traffic tickets.

Speculation freely swirls about where, when and who are more likely to get pulled over and get a ticket.

In an attempt to clear up these urban myths, the Standard-Examiner looked at records of traffic stops and citations obtained from police departments in Ogden, North Ogden, South Ogden, Roy and Harrisville as well as the Weber County Sheriff’s Office from March 2016 to March 2017. This data doesn't reveal everything about citations in Northern Utah but does speak to beliefs about quota systems, traffic stop patterns and general policing. 

Claim 1: You’re more likely to get a ticket at the end of the month.
Rating:

                                             False

What data says:

It has long been rumored that there is a mad dash to write citations at the end of the month so the officers can fulfill a monthly quota. But traffic citation records for the year we examined did not show police agencies in Weber County consistently issuing more tickets toward the end of each month.

Records instead indicated the Ogden Police Department tended to issue more tickets in the first half of each month.

No consistent pattern was found in the traffic citation records. 

The graphic above shows citations fluctuated from day to day and varied from agency to agency, without a particular pattern. 

The second line chart shows the number of tickets given out by each agency by month.

In 2017, the Ogden Police Department wrote more than 10,000 tickets for traffic violations and criminal offenses. The highest number of tickets (1,084) were issued in January and the lowest number (657) in July. The Roy Police Department showed the same peak and lowest months.

The citations by the Weber County Sheriff’s Office, on the other hand, showed an opposite monthly pattern — the highest number of tickets was in July and the lowest in January.

Claim 2: You’re more likely to be pulled over on Fridays and Saturdays than any other weekdays.
Rating: 

                                              Partially True

What data says:

Most local law enforcement agencies made more traffic stops on Fridays and Saturdays than any other weekday.

The Weber County Sheriff’s Office as well as police departments in North Ogden, South Ogden, Roy and Harrisville made significantly more traffic stops on Fridays and Saturdays last year.

However, Ogden was an exception, which pulled over more vehicles on Tuesdays than Fridays. It made more than 2,600 traffic stops on Tuesdays last year and a little over 2,000 on Fridays. On Saturdays, Ogden police made more than 1,300 traffic stops, the lowest number of all weekdays.

One thing Ogden police has in common with the other agencies was peak hours of traffic stops on Fridays and Saturdays.

The charts above indicate that you’re more likely to be pulled over between 9 p.m. and 11 p.m. on Fridays and from 10 p.m. till midnight on Saturdays.

Claim 3: You are more likely to get a ticket on national holidays.
Rating: 

                                            Mostly False

What data says:

The chances of getting a ticket on a national holiday were relatively low compared with other days of the year — but there are a few exceptions.

The numbers of citations on most national holidays including Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day were below average across the board last year.

For example, there were only 13 tickets issued on last Christmas Day by five law enforcement agencies combined.

On the Fourth of July, most agencies in Weber issued very few tickets, but the Weber County Sheriff’s Office wrote 73 tickets, the highest in the month.

The sheriff’s office and the Ogden Police Department also issued more tickets than average on Memorial Day as well.

The graphic below shows the number of citations given out by any agency in July and December.

Use the search bar to find the numbers for any day of any month last year.

Claim 4: There is heavier police presence in certain areas than others.
Rating: 

                                            Mostly True

What data says: 

The Ogden Police Department made more than 14,000 traffic stops last year, and roughly a quarter of them occurred on Washington Boulevard.

Here is an interactive heat map showing the top 42 areas where Ogden police frequently pulled cars over. The bigger the bubble is, the more traffic stops were made at the location in 2017. 

While this map does not show all 14,000 traffic stops in Ogden last year, it visualizes the hot areas where most traffic stops occurred in Ogden.

Unsurprisingly, Washington Boulevard was the No.1 street for traffic stops last year — the longest and widest street going through the heart of Ogden. OPD pulled over more than 3,600 vehicles, an average of 10 traffic stops per day last year.

On the 2100 block Washington Boulevard alone, OPD pulled over 248 vehicles last year.

Wall Avenue ranked second with more than 1,000 traffic stops made last year. Meanwhile, Monroe Boulevard, 12th and 24th streets were also “popular” locations for traffic stops in 2017.

The areas between 24th and 26th streets — near a high concentration of bars in the city — were also a hot spot for traffic stops last year. OPD pulled over more than 1,000 vehicles in that area.

The police department does not target any particular area for patrol, according to Capt. Danielle Croyle, spokesperson for the Ogden City Police Department. Patrolling decisions are up to individual police officers.

To determine when and where to patrol, police officers generally take three things into account: complaints through the community, high traffic and high-crash areas, according to Croyle.

The South Ogden Police Department had deployed intensive enforcement on Washington Boulevard as well, with 800 of their 4,100 stops happening on Washington Boulevard.

The No. 2 street for traffic stops by the agency was Riverdale Road, where more than 500 vehicles have been pulled over last year. It occurred mostly between 35th and 40th streets near a busy shopping center surrounded by bars and restaurants.

The Roy Police Department pulled over some 2,400 vehicles along 1900 West, mostly near Hill Air Force Base, accounting for one-third of all traffic stops made by Roy police last year.

The Harrisville Police Department made more than 300 traffic stops on Highway 89, significantly more than elsewhere in its jurisdiction.

Many of the traffic stops on Highway 89 occurred between Ben Lomond Golf Course and the Harrisville Court.

The Weber County Sheriff’s Office pulled over more than 10,000 vehicles last year, and traffic stops appeared to scatter around the jurisdiction, with no significant concentration in certain areas. One area of note, though, was 4700 West in West Weber, where about 600 vehicles were stopped last year.

Claim 5: Traffic law enforcement has been in decline in Weber County recently.
Rating: 

                                               Mostly True

What data says:

It seems to less common to see police patrol cars sitting on the streets in Ogden. Data backs it up that observation.

Local police agencies across Weber County have been giving out fewer traffic tickets over the years. Records obtained from all district and justice courts in Weber County show a significant decrease in traffic tickets from 2011 to 2017.

Weber law enforcement agencies collectively issued more than 31,000 valid traffic citations in 2017, 20 percent less than 2011 when more than 39,000 tickets were issued.

A big chunk of the decrease in traffic tickets came from Ogden, records show.

In 2017, the Ogden District Court and the Ogden Justice Court received more than 10,000 traffic tickets, which were 7,000 fewer than 2011.

A graphic below presents the downward trend in traffic tickets across Weber County.

Use the search bar to explore the exact number of traffic citations by court.

The decreased number of traffic citations could partially be attributed a problem Ogden police and other local agencies being chronically short-staffed. The police department lost 69 officers between Jan. 1, 2015, and March 12 this year, previously reported by the Standard-Examiner.

The Ogden City Council in March approved a second in pay increase in as many years for city police in order to keep the department consistently staffed with experienced personnel.

RELATED: Ogden City Council OKs 2nd pay raise for police, firemen since January

The Weber County's Sheriff's Office has also experienced staffing problem these years.

"It's an ongoing problem," Lt. Nate Hutchinson, spokesman for the sheriff's office, said. He noted that the agency is consistently down by one or two people.

About this Data:

The data given by police departments to the Standard-Examiner doesn't show every citation written. Instead, the data shows the first or primary offense from each stop. If a person was pulled over for a speeding violation, for example, but also got slapped with other violations, the Standard's data only shows the speeding violation.

Common first and primary traffic violations cited by the county sheriff’s department was speeding. Behind that were moving violations of failure to register and failure to yield. 

The Standard-Examiner obtained traffic stop records from March 2016 to March 2018 from the Ogden Police Department, the Weber County Sheriff's Office, South Ogden Police Department, North Ogden Police Department, Roy Police Department and Harrisville Police Department, as well as the courts records of traffic citations from 2011 to 2017 from Utah courts through multiple open records requests.

Countywide law enforcement agencies started adopting a new data entry system in March 2016, which stores the records differently from the previous system. Therefore, the records prior to March 2016 would be difficult to retrieve and incomparable with the current records. 

Despite the unified data entry system, the ways of documenting traffic stops and citations records vary from agency to agency. The missing values and inconsistent entries could have affected the result of the analysis. The Standard-Examiner re-organized and cleaned the datasets for analysis purposes. 

Law enforcement agencies do not track demographic information consistently, and there are no case-based demographic records available.

Contact Reporter Sheila Wang at 801-625-4252 or swang@standard.net. Follow her on Facebook @JournalistSheilaW or on Twitter @SheilaWang7.