Police say warnings are 'public education' effort
Warning tickets are often issued alongside a citation, police said, but officers look at them as an opportunity to educate the public.
“Nobody really wants us to be writing tickets for every single violation we encounter,” said Lt. Derik Zimmel, of the Grand Forks Police Department. “So a lot of times if an officer sees things they can exercise discretion on, a lot of times they will just to use a good portion of the interaction as public education as opposed to something that’s going to cost people money or a trip to court or anything like that.”
During 2018, there were 190 warnings and 4,529 citations in Grand Forks. In 2017, there were 211 warnings and 5,233 tickets. Zimmel said there’s a slight variance throughout the years, but no significant trend. He said fluctuation could come from different grant funding that could impact the number of officers available for certain types of enforcement.
East Grand Forks Police Chief Michael Hedlund said his department doesn’t track the ratio and it likely varies from officer to officer, but police generally issue more verbal warnings than written ones.
“It’s pretty customary, especially on lower speeds and rolling through stop signs and things like that -- it’s pretty common for officers to just stop people and give them a warning before they move them on, assuming that there isn’t anything else they encounter during the course of the interaction,” he said.
Warnings are issued on a discretionary basis and it is up to each officer to decide if one is appropriate. Zimmel said driving history and the severity of the offense can factor into the decision.
“Window tint is a good example,” he said. “If an officer checks and they see three or four previous warnings for window-tint violations, they’re not going to issue another warning because there’s no point, so in that case, the driver would get a ticket.”
Zimmel said a lot of the decision is just based on common sense -- “we wouldn’t issue a warning for a DUI, for example.”
Verbal warnings are not tracked, but Zimmel said officers keep note of written warnings.
Typically, there is discretion involved in whether an officer decides to issue a ticket or warning, Zimmel said, but when officers are working under a specific program or grant designation they have to issue a citation. He said a common example would be seatbelt enforcement grant funding from the North Dakota Department of Transportation. Zimmel said officers may issue a verbal or written warning if they see a seatbelt violation during a traffic stop, but if they’re specifically searching for seatbelt violations officers don’t have the discretion to just issue a warning.
If officers notice one or more violations during a traffic stop, Zimmel said they’ll sometimes issue just one citation and warn the drivers about the other infractions so tickets don’t pile up. He said drivers are often stopped and ticketed for speeding, but an officer could issue a warning for expired registration or a headlight being out during the same stop.
Headland estimated each officer gives two to three warnings for every one ticket they write.
“It’s a way for us to address the violation without putting an undue amount of stress on the public,” Zimmel said.