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City Hallways (Jan. 20) New traffic agency director touts benefit to police overtime

City officials says new traffic agency to cut some police costs, keep cops on street

Interesting take on city's new traffic agency coming from the man heading it.

Traffic agency director Kevin Helfer says he anticipates the new bureau reducing police overtime.

Here's why:

When the state handled Buffalo traffic tickets, motorists had a choice of pleading guilty or innocent. There was no in-mail plea deal as there now is.

So residents would routinely plead innocent, which required police officers – often on overtime – to appear in traffic court. If the officers came in on overtime, they got a minimum four hours' pay – even if the case only lasted an hour – under terms of the  PBA contract.

Now that the city is handling the tickets, in-mail plea deals are offered, and routinely taken, so police don't have to appear in court.  The deal allows many motorists charged with a moving violations (the kind that carry points) to plea down to a parking ticket (which doesn't carry points.)

Police do still have to show up when a motorist pleads innocent. But that's happening far less now that the mail-in plea deal is offered, Helfer  said.

And with fewer innocent pleas, Helfer said, the city's traffic court only convenes to hear those cases a few times a month. A police officer who comes in will likely have several cases before the court at the same session, rather than appearing on several different days, he said.

The bottom line, Helfer said, is less overtime for police in traffic court.

And if it turns out the traffic ticket goes to court when an officer is on duty, it means the officers will be spending less time in court during their work shift, so they can spend more time on the street, added Niagara Councilman David Rivera, who is a retired police officer.

Mutual admiration

I stopped into the train public hearing for a few minutes Thursday – long enough to hear Council President Darius Pridgen announce what a great job Mayor Byron Brown in doing, and Brown to respond in kind, saying what a great job Pridgen is doing.

Here's link to a story my colleague, Mark Sommer, wrote on the train hearing.

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