Miami-Dade County

Traffic tickets are way down. It’s not because drivers in Miami have gotten better.

The Miami-Dade Police Department is running out of traffic-ticket books as they try to transition to an electronic citation filing system. When the system is running, officers will be able to file citations from their laptops.
The Miami-Dade Police Department is running out of traffic-ticket books as they try to transition to an electronic citation filing system. When the system is running, officers will be able to file citations from their laptops. Miami Herald File

Only lousy drivers might have noticed, but Miami-Dade cops are doling out fewer traffic tickets — mainly because the department is running out of paper ticket books.

The reason: An electronic traffic citation system, which allows cops to file tickets to the courts directly from their laptops, has been delayed for months. The department hasn’t ordered new ticket books, and is hoping their stock lasts until the electronic system debuts sometime in January.

Miami-Dade patrol officers have been warned to make their “Florida Uniform Citation” books — which normally contain 25 blank tickets — last until the system is up and running department wide. That means only the most blatant of traffic scofflaws are getting pulled over on roads considered the most dangerous in Florida.

“It’s true that we have limited citations,” said Miami-Dade Police Maj. Hector Llevat, a spokesman. “Officers are using their discretion.”

From speeding to red-light to seat-belt violations, Miami-Dade police traffic citations have fallen in the last two years, court records show.

Through the first 11 months of the year, Miami-Dade police issued 76,563 citations, which means they will fall well short of last year’s total of 98,330 — and far shy of the 123,731 tickets issued in 2015.

One Miami-Dade police officer who frequently goes after traffic offenders told the Miami Herald that “the majority of officers don’t have ticket books.”

“I’m literally down to my last book of tickets,” he said. “The only tickets I’m writing now are egregious violations and criminal violations.”

Florida Uniform Traffic Citation
Miami-Dade police are running out of traffic-ticket books as they try and transition to an electronic citation filing system. Miami-Dade police

That’s not reassuring to anyone concerned with horrible Miami drivers, who rank among the nation’s worst in assorted surveys.

According to one recent study, Miami-Dade is home to the most dangerous roads in the state, including stretches of Interstate 95 and stretches of Northwest 54th and Northwest Seventh streets.

Through this week, Miami-Dade had logged 57,555 vehicle crashes in 2017, with more than 200 fatalities. That’s by far the highest volume of any county in Florida, a state named as having the “worst drivers” in the United States two years in a row.

More drivers on the road than ever in Miami-Dade means lots of traffic tickets — more than one million filed by cops every year. It’s a logistical and paperwork nightmare.

With tickets written on paper, police departments must physically deliver the citations to the clerk of courts for processing into the computer system. “Many tickets either got lost or filed later, or we couldn’t read them,” said Miami-Dade County Judge Steve Leifman, who oversees administration of traffic court. “A lot of tickets would get dismissed unnecessarily because of poor penmanship or citations not being submitted on time.”

The electronic citation system is supposed to change all that, allowing officers to file directly from their patrol-car laptops. More and more police departments have gone to an eCitation system, including bigger local police departments such as Miami, Miami Beach and the Florida Highway Patrol.

It was not until January that Miami-Dade — the largest police department in the county — contracted with Georgia-based LexisNexis to implement its system. The cost: $248,980 for the software, with a yearly cost of $37,980 for upkeep of the programs.

A small number of officers have begun using the electronic ticket system as part of a “testing phase.” The department had hoped to get the system up and running for all patrol officers by this past summer. But getting the software to run smoothly has been challenging.

A company spokeswoman noted that the staff is “fine-tuning data entry fields, interfaces and auto-fill capabilities” that will help “write citations more quickly and get community members back on their way more quickly, keeping both officers and the community safe, while also improving alignment with the courts to help judicial processes run more smoothly.”

A Hummer slammed into a pedestrian early Tuesday morning at the intersection of Biscayne Boulevard and 82nd Street in Miami and then the driver took off, according to police.