Sarpy County Sheriff’s Deputy Kyle Percifield told his class of 18 recent traffic ticket recipients that the four-hour class wasn’t designed to punish them.
The students would no longer have to pay their citations, go to court or have the ticket on their records.
Percifield has been teaching ticket dismissal courses through the Sarpy County Safety Program for about four months.
“They typically have a preconceived notion that we’re going to make them suffer,” Percifield said. “It’s really just a refresher course.”
Unlike many other metro area ticket dismissal courses, Sarpy County’s courses aren’t run through the National Safety Council Program. Instead, they’re run through the Sheriff’s Office and the County Attorney’s Office.
The County started running its own program in 1999, after splitting from the Greater Omaha Chapter of the National Safety Council, which has since been renamed the Nebraska Chapter of the National Safety Council.
By administering the classes on its own, the county could generate more revenue, said Sarpy County Attorney Lee Polikov. It also saves the courts time and money.
The class brought in $392,975 last year, Sarpy County Sheriff Jeff Davis said. Davis said revenue is down slightly from when the course was first implemented. It’s due in part to the fact that the classes are working to make people safer drivers and it’s also because, as the Sheriff’s Office gets busier, they don’t have as much time to run radar.
Prior to running its own course, tickets were filed in court and, when the course was completed, the county attorney dismissed the ticket.
Now, when officers give a ticket, a court date is set four to six weeks later, giving the recipient an opportunity to register and complete the course prior to the date.
The Sarpy County Attorney’s Office then accepts the letters of completion and declines to file the tickets.
With thousands of people taking the classes each year, they’re offered two to three times a week.
“We want to be able to have a lot of flexibility for people,” said Pam Marek, coordinator of the Sarpy County Safety Program.
Marek said the class size ranges from having just a few attendees up to 40 attendees.
Most tickets qualify people for the four-hour class, Polikov said. The common four-hour class costs $98 and the eight-hour class costs $115. The program also offers motorcycle classes, with the basic course costing $209.
A significant portion of money paid to take the class goes to fund an alternative school run by the Sheriff’s Office, Polikov said.
“The results are really good,” Polikov said. “People are learning about their mistakes, and we generate a lot of revenue that supports the alternative school.”
Students at the school are ones who have had issues in regular classes, have been expelled or have no place to go, Davis said.
The school at the Patrick J. Thomas Juvenile Justice Center has specialized teachers working with students who have learning disabilities or difficulty in class.
“Some of those kids are extremely brilliant, they just haven’t been in a setting that allows them to go forward,” Davis said.
The course’s curriculum meets standards set by the State of Nebraska, Davis said. But it can vary depending on who is teaching.
“Any differences vary teacher to teacher, instructor to instructor, but the general outline is the same,” Davis said.
Instructors have some connection to law enforcement. Most are current or retired law enforcement, Davis said.
The four-hour classes go over the basics—rules of the road, the driver’s manual, alcohol laws, the DMV and crashes.
Percifield gives an interactive test to his classes after going through the curriculum.
Polikov has had many people tell him over the years that, while they initially didn’t want to attend the class, they learned something from it.
“Education shouldn’t be a penalty,” Polikov said. “It should have value to the person who’s taking it. A lot of people do appreciate going and learning something.”
At one point in time, Davis didn’t like the option of a ticket dismissal course. But a study conducted through the University of Nebraska at Omaha showed him otherwise.
The study showed that those who went through the class benefitted more than those who just paid the fine. Individuals who took the class were less likely to reoffend, have an accident or be cited, Davis said.
“From that point on, I was on board,” Davis said. “People who went through the class maybe only went because they didn’t want to pay the ticket or didn’t want the ticket on their record.
“When they left the class, it made them better drivers and that’s the goal of the ticket in the first place.”