Jacksonville FLA. Jan 4 2008
The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office issues between 5,000 and 7,000 traffic citations a week. Those tickets include speeding and other moving violations, driving on a suspended license, driving without valid insurance, driving with an expired tag or any combination thereof.
Most of the people that get tickets think, despite physically getting them from the officer, that they come from the Clerk of the Court’s Office. And, many of them raise hell with Clerk of the Court Jim Fuller.
“A misconception is that because the Clerk’s name is at the top of all the tickets, people call me and ask why I wrote them a ticket,” said Fuller. “All I do is collect the money and store the records.”
A vast majority of those tickets are paid at the Traffic Violations Bureau on Beach Boulevard, which is run by Director Sheri Whited. Late in the afternoon Wednesday, Whited’s office was relatively busy. While the line didn’t resemble Space Mountain’s, there seemed to always be about 30 people waiting to pay.
“We get hundreds of people a day,” said Whited, who has been running the office for four years. “One cashier can handle about 300 transactions a day. Remember, some of those people are paying for multiple citations.”
Whited has 16 full-time cashiers and another 64 employees that work behind the scenes inputting citations and keeping records.
“We have a phone center and a mail center where we process payments,” said Whited. “It runs the whole gamut from civil to criminal citations.”
Fuller said aside from thinking he issued the ticket, the other major misconception people have is thinking his office keeps the revenue. The reality is Fuller’s office only keeps a fraction of any citation.
“It gets split up,” said Fuller.
A typical citation is split between the municipality that issued the ticket (in this case the City of Jacksonville and the City of Jacksonville Beach), the State and the Clerk of the Court. According to Tom Hiers, assistant to the Clerk, the municipality gets 50.8 percent, the State gets 43.1 percent, the Clerk gets 6 percent and the remaining .1 percent is split up among various agencies and causes.
However, those percentages aren’t that cut and dry. For example, the State’s cut is then divided among several agencies including departments of revenue, health and many others.
“The formula includes fixed numbers and percentages,” said Hiers.
Every year the formula changes, too. Fuller said his office is constantly checking with the State Legislature to see if any new legislation will add to a citation or change how a citation is distributed.
“For example, if the Legislature wants to fund research for spinal cord injuries, then they might add 50 cents to a ticket,” said Fuller, a former State Legislator. “If the Legislature passes a law, we have to go through it and see what bucket to add to and what bucket to take from. Mostly, we add.”
Another misconception people have, according to Fuller, is that he can get them out of paying a ticket. He can’t. Neither can Sheriff John Rutherford. Neither can Mayor John Peyton. Neither can the officer who wrote the citation.
“Once a ticket is written, only one person — the judge — can rescind the ticket,” said Fuller. “I get calls every day. Trust me, no one in Jacksonville speeds.
“If you get a ticket, you have three options: pay the ticket, go to court or go to traffic school.”
Paying the ticket is the easiest option, but the most expensive and immediately costly. Going to court may be the most entertaining (just ask Fuller), but also least effective. Fuller says very few people actually win in traffic court. And, you can only attend traffic school so many times.
With thousands of people a week paying traffic citations in one small office, things can get interesting. Despite having an off-duty JSO officer on site (that ended in November and now a Whackenhut Security guard mans the office), the general public can do some crazy, and sometimes vicious, things.
“We have not had any weapons, but I have had people spit on my cashiers,” said Whited. “One person followed a cashier out of the office and ran them off the road. We have had cars keyed and tires slashed.
“People have been escorted out of the building for being rude or belligerent. One man came in smelling of marijuana. We found some on him.
“Some come in with counterfeit money. One dropped a ton of it on the floor. It wasn’t Monopoly money. It wasn’t even the right color.”
Not all of the stories involve bad folks doing bad things. One gentleman just wanted to pay his ticket.
“One guy paid his 84-dollar ticket in all pennies,” said Whited.
Yes, he stood there while the cashiers counted every penny.
“It always makes for good conversation,” said Whited, who admitted she really enjoys the job. “Actually, believe it or not, I love it. It’s crazy and the clientele is not the nicest, but it’s busy and the days fly by.”
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