They are paid to serve, protect and show up in court, but an NBC Bay Area investigation found that many law enforcement officers, deputies, and patrolmen failed to appear for their courtroom responsibilities. Earlier this year, several law enforcement agencies with high rates of no-shows promised to hold officers accountable. It appears most took the matter seriously.
An NBC Bay Area Investigative Unit analysis in June found that the agencies with the highest rates of failure to appear in traffic court were Redwood City CHP Division, the San Jose Police Department, and the San Jose Division of CHP. All three agencies failed to appear for traffic tickets more than 15% of the time.
“Your investigative reporting resulted in some of these agencies being made aware of the fact there’s a problem here,” said Commissioner George Saldivar, who presides over traffic court at the Santa Clara County Superior Court.
After the Investigative Unit’s reporting, both the CHP and the San Jose Police Department made changes in the way they worked, including tracking and monitoring court appearances.
“When we look at those numbers that were provided to us, we recognize the fact that we need to do a better job and we want to do a better job,” said Phan Ngo, a deputy chief with the San Jose Police Department back in June.
“Definitely the message is going to be a little bit stronger,” added Captain Les Bishop of the California Highway Patrol.
Records show those changes implemented after the original investigation made a difference. “There’s a significant drop in no show rates,” Commissioner Saldivar said.
San Jose dropped its no-show rate by 4%. San Jose CHP dropped by 7% and Redwood City’s CHP went from a 20% no-show rate, down to 8%.
“They made corrections. It just tells me they want to do the right thing. They did the right thing,” Commissioner Saldivar said.
The Investigative Unit’s latest review of court records for the past five months found that not every agency got the message. According to the most recent records, Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Deputies missed court 20% of the time. That’s a 6% increase from last year’s numbers and is the largest no-show rate of any major police agency in the Bay Area.
“That number is a little higher than I expected and that’s the reason why I was surprised when you presented me with this data,” said Captain Rick Sung of the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Department.
After seeing the data, Captain Sung said his agency will now focus on tracking appearances in traffic court. “This is what we have to do as a government entity,” Captain Sung said. “You come to us with a problem and you’re looking for a solution and we’re here to provide that solution.”
In reviewing more than a year of traffic court records, the Investigative Unit found that agencies that track appearances have the best records of court attendance. When court attendance is not monitored, there is a greater chance the ticket gets dismissed because the officer failed to appear, wasting court resources and tax dollars.