Letter To The Editor: Analyzing The So-Called 'Shoshoni Speed Trap'

Dear editor, "Instead of being known for milkshakes and malts, Shoshoni is now famous, or maybe infamous, for our 'speed trap.'"

CSD Staff

April 02, 20246 min read

The Fast Lane is the place to be in downtown Shoshone.
The Fast Lane is the place to be in downtown Shoshone. (Leo Wolfson, Cowboy State Daily)

Dear editor,

When I moved to Shoshoni, Wyoming in 1981, the town was well-known for the fantastic milkshakes and malts served at the Yellowstone Drug Store.

The Yellowstone Drug Store is no longer open for business, but that’s not to say Shoshoni isn’t well known for other things.

A quick visit to Wikipedia.com reveals; “The town has gained notoriety as a speed trap due to numerous references citing its aggressive enforcement of traffic laws. According to available data, the town has a 32% ticket to resident rate, suggesting a disproportionate number of traffic tickets issued to drivers passing through the area. This has led to criticism and controversy surrounding the town's policing practices.”

I typed “Shoshoni speed trap” into the Google search engine, and I found complaints about the perceived “speed trap” on travel websites, traffic websites, and social media.

Speedtrap.org indicates 375 complaints from 2005-2017, and the list goes on. I can’t even fathom how many times the topic comes up in conversation when I tell people I live in Shoshoni.

Just last week, a Casper merchant asked me if I live in Riverton. I told him I live in Shoshoni. He replied with a negative remark about our police department and speeding tickets.

I thought to myself, “Here we go again.” Instead of being known for milkshakes and malts, we are now famous, or maybe infamous, for our “speed trap”.

Is It A Speed Trap?

Is Shoshoni a “speed trap” and does Shoshoni have “controversial policing practices”? I suppose that depends on who you ask.

I requested and subsequently received several documents from the Shoshoni Town Clerk, including the Shoshoni Police Department Citation Report for Fiscal Year 2022-2023, and the Police Department Budget for the same time period.

Let’s take a look at some facts and figures.

During fiscal year 2022-2023 the Shoshoni Police Department wrote 2,235 traffic citations. There were 22 tickets written to motorists that had driver’s license issues such as an expired license, driving under revocation, etc.

Eight tickets were issued for improper passing, one for careless driving, one for an obscured plate, five for improper registration, and one for driving too fast for conditions.

There were 11 tickets for running a stop sign, one for no turn signal, one for improper tail lights, one for not maintaining a single lane of traffic, one for driving on a sidewalk, one open container, two for an improper turn, and one for no auto insurance.

Three citations were issued for sun screening devices, and there were seven DUI arrests.

The remaining 2,168 citations were for speeding.

Was there a “…disproportionate number of traffic tickets issued to drivers passing through the area” as suggested by Wikipedia?

The citation report doesn’t indicate the residency of those motorists who received tickets. My personal observation is tickets are written to motorists coming into town, to motorists leaving town, and to drivers in the middle of town.

The color of the license plate doesn’t matter, in state, out of state, or foreign county. The type of vehicle doesn’t matter, car, motorcycle, or semi-truck.

People who regularly travel through Shoshoni are very much aware of the strict traffic enforcement, so it would make sense that a lot of tickets go to the unsuspecting traveler.

Cash Cow

According to the Town of Shoshoni budget, $260,000.00 was the projected revenue for traffic citations and fees for FY 2022-2023.

Without that revenue, the police department as currently configured would be in some serious trouble.

The department bested the projected amount by $59,075.97, generating $319,075.97 in fines and fees.

The total police department revenue stream was $548,492.44. In a nutshell, traffic tickets accounted for 58% of the total revenue.

In reviewing the citation report, it’s not uncommon for two officers per shift to write 10+ tickets each.

For that matter, it’s not unusual to see three officers on duty at the same time policing traffic along Highways 20 and 26. The Crossroads of Wyoming (Shoshoni) is a cash cow for speeding tickets.

The Shoshoni Police Department does have a good thing going. The pay, the benefits, and the perks aren’t half bad.

No one likes losing their job. In FY 2022-23 the department had three full time officers and three part time officers.

We now have four full time police officers. According to the Department of Justice FBI UCR Table 71, that’s three times the national average on a per capita basis.

The 2024 budget shows raises for all police department employees. Non-salary budget items in the police department also increased.

As expenditures continue to rise, there is a corresponding increase in anticipated revenue to meet additional costs.

For fiscal year 2024, the police department’s anticipated revenue from traffic citation fines and fees was raised from $260,000.00 to $350,000.00. That’s a lot of additional tickets.

I am now seeing police officers spending their entire shift doing nothing but traffic control. There is little routine patrolling, and nighttime patrols have gone the way of the dinosaurs.

Using fines and fees to fund police departments is perfectly legal in most states, including Wyoming. Whether it is the right thing to do is debatable.

In his article “The Right – and the Wrong Way – To Fund the Police” on Governing.com, Author Currie Myers states, "Over-reliance on fees, fines and forfeitures drives a wedge between police and the communities they serve. It's detrimental to both crime-solving and the profession of law enforcement.”

Similar articles appear in The New York Times, Forbes Magazine, USA Today, and the list goes on and on.

In spite of a nationwide trend to curtail the practice of relying heavily on traffic fines for funding, I don’t think Shoshoni will be making any changes any time soon.

For now, I suggest motorists traveling through Shoshoni should buckle up, slow down, and please never drink and drive.

Ron Ankeny, Shoshoni

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CSD Staff