A Faulkner County circuit judge will review data regarding the types of traffic tickets written by Damascus police that triggered speed trap sanctions against the city.
The city was found in violation of the state’s speed trap laws last year and was ordered to cease patrol of all highways. City Attorney Beau Wilcox said in a hearing Wednesday morning that this sanction has hindered the city’s shrinking police force.
Former Faulkner County Prosecuting Attorney Cody Hiland found in February 2017 that Damascus was, in fact, in violation of the Arkansas speed trap statute because the city’s revenues from fines exceeded 30 percent of the city’s expenditures for each of the two previous years. Following Luke Ferguson’s appointment to the 20th Judicial District prosecuting attorney’s position, he upheld Hildand’s ruling.
Thirty percent of revenues is one of two ways a city can be deemed a speed trap, per the statute. A city can also be found at fault if more than 50 percent of its tickets are for violations of less than 10 mph over the speed limit. Damascus was not found in violation of the 10 mph term.
In a hearing before Circuit Judge Chris R. Carnahan on Wednesday, Feb. 7, Wilcox argued the city was not in violation of the 30 percent threshold. Investigators with Arkansas State Police who reviewed the traffic-related ticket data in Damascus did not properly extract and separate traffic-related offenses when determining the revenue stream of the city’s police department, Wilcox said.
“[I]t is undisputed that the revenue figures employed by the 20th Judicial District Prosecuting Attorney’s Office used all revenues by the City of Damascus for the years that were investigated,” Wilcox has argued in a brief previously filed in Faulkner County Circuit Court regarding the city’s injunction against the speed trap sanctions. “It is notable that not only were revenues from so-called ‘traffic offenses’ included in the calculus, but also fines from warrants, jail fees, and other non-traffic violations were also calculated.”
These additional amounts, Wilcox said in Wednesday’s hearing, skewed the city’s results.
Judge Carnahan said Wilcox would be responsible for gathering the data to disprove ASP’s calculations but that he wanted to set an evidentiary hearing in the matter.
“I’m going to need to look at some data [before making a decision], Carnahan said Wednesday.
Wilcox said the process to collect the necessary data would be tedious, but that he planned to have the information ready within 14 days.
Assistant Attorney General William C. Bird III said the statute is clear and maintains Damascus was in violation of the 30 percent threshold. He also said he disagreed with Wilcox’s argument that accused the statute of being unconstitutional.
Carnahan said he would not determine the statute’s constitutional standing, noting that decision would be up the the state legislature.
Wilcox said that while this decision was not surprising, he believes the city’s arguments “are worth an appeal.”
“I understand and respect Judge Carnahan’s ruling,” Wilxox said Wednesday, noting he was thankful for the opportunity to gather data regarding ticket revenue that was reviewed in determining the city’s case before the court.
The Damascus police force currently operates off two part-time officers, with Mayor L.B. Pavatt assuming police chief responsibilities after he dissolved the position last year.
Wilcox said not being able to cite those who speed along Highway 65, a major highway that runs through the city, impedes on the officers’ ability to protect and serve residents.
An evidentiary hearing will likely be set in April regarding the matter.