Sunnyside sees big drop in traffic tickets, court revenue down

SUNNYSIDE, Wash. -- There's reason for drivers in Sunnyside to feel better these days. They aren't getting nearly as many tickets as they used to. A big reason is a new emphasis on community policing.

Jeremy Tucker is a patrol officer with the Sunnyside Police Department.

He pulled over Susan Bertsch for having a cracked windshield. It's a violation that could get her a ticket.

"I did not know it was illegal, otherwise I would've had it fixed already," said Bertsch.

In this case, the officer only gave her a warning.

Sunnyside police say sometimes it's more important to educate someone than penalize them for things like broken headlights and taillights.

"We're here to help," said Sunnyside Police Commander Scott Bailey. "We don't always have to give tickets in order to help the community."

That's part of the new emphasis on the force. The strategy under Chief Al Escalera is to build relationships and trust.

And, we're seeing that shift when it comes to tickets.

For the first half of the year, tickets are down by two-thirds in Sunnyside from the same period last year.

Police say part of that is from giving more warnings. Another factor is that the department is down two patrol officers. They also credit safer driving.

However, fewer traffic tickets also means less revenue. Sunnyside's municipal court is down $100,000 compared to last year.

"That's a significant amount of money that the city doesn't have a lot," said Sunnyside City Manager Don Day. "We're trying to stabilize our revenues and this is not good news."

Day says if the losses continue, the city could cut staff or court hours. A price that could be paid for building police relationships.

"They're there to protect you and you ought to see them in a good light," said Bertsch.

Officers use discretion when it comes to giving warnings. Sunnyside has no tolerance on DUI's. Driving without a license or without insurance will get you a ticket, not a warning.