Speaking Personally

A crime of perception
I asked, and you answered. Two weeks ago, I asked for my readers to tell me what they care about and what they think I should investigate. As I expected, the answers surprised me. 
I am, however, a woman of my word, and I have spent the last week looking into the issue my readers seem to care about the most. 
They think Willow Springs is getting a reputation for being a speed trap.
If you’re a regular reader, you know this isn’t the first time I’ve heard it. It was a popular topic at the community forum I hosted, and it has been the subject of a few letters to the editor. It’s time to address it.
As far as I can tell, this issue comes down to three major points: reputation, money, the numbers.
Let’s start with reputation because I think it’s the most important. Regardless of what I can show you in actual enforcement and citation numbers, the issue here is a crime of perception. If you think your hometown’s reputation is on the line, that’s something I want to take seriously.
In fact, to investigate this claim that Willow is getting a reputation, my employees and I asked almost a hundred people, “What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Willow Springs lately?”
That word “lately” really seemed to trip people up because the top four answers all have to do with the nostalgia Willow Springs inspires. In order, the most popular responses were: hometown, family, Wendell Bailey, and Hillbilly Junction. 
I think these iconic and nostalgic responses really illustrate the pride that most people have in Willow Springs. It looms so large in their heart, that they can’t even see the problems when you ask them about it directly.
But back to my investigation, the current events and places people mentioned most were Pizza Americana, the Star Theatre, the increase in homelessness, and the dangerous building on Main St. 
Only one person out of the 100 who responded said ‘speed trap’. If I told people why we were asking, lots of folks mentioned another town, not Willow Springs. 
We made sure to ask people both in Willow Springs and outside. My delivery drivers asked this question everywhere we have a newsstand, so I’m confident we have both an insider’s and outsider’s perspective.
If you want my outsider’s perspective, I think small towns in general have a reputation for enforcing speed limits more enthusiastically. Growing up, if I drove outside the city limits of St. Louis, I drove the speed limit.
Allegations of the money speeding tickets allegedly generate for law enforcement are just incorrect. In 2020, I pulled the numbers from the City of Willow Springs looking for how much revenue they generate per ticket. I learned that it costs the city money to prosecute traffic tickets. There is no profit in it.
Between court costs, labor and training costs, and statutory requirements, I can suggest with a clear conscience based on the data I’ve personally researched that Willow Springs Police loses money with every ticket they write. 
Based on my observations, they are writing tickets because in their professional opinion, speeding is a public safety problem in Willow Springs.
The Numbers
In pursuit of this article, I gathered speeding ticket information from all the local law enforcement agencies. Here’s what I found:
Willow Springs Police Department stopped a total of 238 people for speeding in the last 30 days. They issued tickets to 65% percent of those, and warnings to 45%. Seventy-six percent of the tickets they wrote were for speeding 11-15 mph over.
In the same time period, West Plains Police Department stopped 184 people for speeding, writing tickets to 50% of those people and warnings to the rest.
Mountain View Police Department stopped 45 people, and wrote citations to 26% of those and warnings to the rest.
Howell County Sheriff’s Department prefaced their information by telling me they are not a traffic enforcement agency. However, they have issued 25 warnings for speeding and no tickets.
Missouri State Highway Patrol was able to provide me with numbers on their enforcement activity in the north of the county (north of State Routes P & N), and Troopers stopped a total of 255 people for speed and wrote 62% of them tickets. The remaining 38% received warnings. 
To be fair, I think there are two ways to interpret these numbers: one – Willow Springs PD is as zealous as Highway Patrol about traffic enforcement, or two – speeding is a major problem in northern Howell County. 
What I Think
I think law enforcement professionals are just that – professionals. Either we trust them to do their job using their training and experience to police our streets, or we do not. If we don’t, something needs to change. 
If we do trust them, and you’re still concerned that Willow Springs is getting a reputation, why not defend the police instead of blaming them? Standing up for your town does not mean the police are the bad guys. The speeders are the ones breaking the law, and no one has the right to break the law.
A speed trap has to be just that – a trap. There must be an element of deception, of trickery. The police in Willow Springs have been nothing but forthcoming with these numbers and why they enforce traffic the way they do. They have hidden nothing from me, and they’re not hiding from drivers when they’re working traffic. 
The police are the good guys. 
They have a thankless job. They deal with jerks all day. They put themselves in danger with every traffic stop. They see and experience horrific things that give me nightmares when I only have to write about them. 
It's my job to watch public servants closely on your behalf, dear reader, and to tell you when they step out of line. I do not find anything to criticize here, and hopefully you know me well enough by now to know that I would light them up if I did. 
What do you think? Call or email me and tell me I’m wrong if you think so. I’d love to hear from you. 417-252-2123 or editor@howellcountynews.com
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Howell County News

110 W. Main St.,
Willow Springs, MO 65793

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