NASHVILLE, TN (WSMV) - Nashville is losing about $50,000 per month because Metro Nashville Police Dept. officers are writing fewer traffic tickets, a News4 I-Team investigation found.
The trend began in August, not long after two key events: police lost their cost-of-living raises, and an officer became the subject of a TBI investigation after he shot and killed a man after a traffic stop.
The News4 I-Team showed Metro Councilwoman Mary Carolyn Roberts the decline in revenues.
"It's staggering," Roberts said. "I'm shocked by these numbers."
The day News4 stopped in, traffic court looked like a ghost town. There were fewer than a dozen defendants, and court was over in 20 minutes.
The fact that Metro police are cutting down on traffic stops is good news for drivers prone to traffic violations, like Ariel Taylor. She was in court making a payment plan to clean up more than a dozen old speeding tickets.
"Great news for me!" Taylor said.
MNPD's own statistics also show that traffic stops declined dramatically from 2018 compared to 2017.
In one precinct, Midtown Hills, stops decreased by 87-percent.
Is there less crime? Fewer bad drivers? Or something else?
James Smallwood, president of the Nashville Fraternal Order of Police, told the News4 I-Team that officers have reason to think twice before risking their lives and careers over a traffic stop.
"There's no reason to take that extra risk if you don't have to," Smallwood explained.
The News4 I-Team also found that the dramatic drop in traffic stops began in August, right after Mayor David Briley's administration cut officers’ cost-of-living increases.
"You've got broken promises from the city,” Smallwood said.
However, Smallwood said the rescinded pay raises are just one factor.
According to Smallwood, police are under scrutiny like never before and Nashville officers are anxious right now because Nashville DA Glen Funk is currently prosecuting one of their fellow officers, Andrew Delke, for murder.
Delke was recently indicted for the on-duty fatal shooting of civilian Daniel Hambrick.
"They're reconsidering whether taking that proactive step is worth risking everything, their life and their livelihood, when you have a district attorney who says you're training doesn't count and we are going to indict you if you do this," Smallwood said.
The Metro budget is feeling the pinch from the lost traffic fines.
Ticket revenues dropped 23-percent in Aug. 2018, and the revenue gap increases every month.
By December, it was down 42-percent.
"We can't help that officer's lack of pro-activity is costing the city money," Smallwood said. "That's up to the city to figure out a way to fix."
Smallwood said he believes there will be even more scrutiny of police officers now that the city has created a Community Oversight Board.
Councilwoman Roberts told News4 she only reluctantly voted to rescind cost-of-living adjustments for Metro employees, and council members were between a rock and a hard place because the only alternative was to raise taxes.
Roberts said police are underpaid and overworked and may be spending all their time answering calls rather than being proactive.
"I think going out to do your job every day and put your life on the line in a city where you feel undervalued and underappreciated has got to be a challenge," Roberts said.
Metro Police recently reported that they are short more than 100 police officers.