If you get stopped by a Raleigh police officer for speeding, mind your manners.
Declare you've not been pulled for speeding in years. An apology and promise to never drive too fast again wouldn't hurt.
Any of these ploys could earn a major break from Raleigh police.
If a Raleigh officer decides to ticket a speeder, he or she can use the city code. It's a big gift. That ticket shields their driving record, guards against jumps in their auto insurance bills and can spare speeders the hassle of going to court.
Nearly 5,000 people were this lucky in 2006. That's a quarter of the drivers Raleigh police wrote up for speeding.
The rest of the speeders, about 15,000 people, were cited for violations of state law. Most had to take their chances in the Wake County courthouse, where they could try to cut a different deal to avoid insurance points and loss of license.
No policy tells Raleigh police officers when it's appropriate to cite drivers under the city code.
"Is there a rule here that says when an officer uses city code or general statute? No," said Dawn Bryant, the Police Department's attorney. "Is it a benefit to citizens? Generally, yes. The law allows that."
Officers are all over the map in how often they grant these breaks. Officer Corey Thompson, who left the department in January, issued city code violations to 82 percent of the speeders he wrote up in five years. In 2006, he accounted for 19 percent of all those given by Raleigh police. Thompson, who is now with the state Highway Patrol, said he doled them out to just about every speeder who wasn't breaking some other major law such as drunken driving.
"A ticket is not a fun thing," Thompson said. He said a city code violation is still a charge, adding, "I was doing my job."
On the other hand, Senior Officer Timothy E. O'Neal, who patrolled all over the city before moving into an administrative role in 2006, used the city code option with less than 1 percent of the 2,842 drivers he cited for speeding in five years.
Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker said there needs to be a policy governing when officers write such tickets. He was unaware the department could even do it.
"I've been around a long time, and I've never heard of this," Meeker said.
Raleigh Police Maj. Rick Grayson, head of patrol, was also surprised. He and other department leaders initially said they didn't see a need to make any changes. Bryant, the attorney, said no one has complained.
Jim Sughrue, a Raleigh police spokesman, said after reviewing an N&O analysis of the records of the drivers cited with city code violations that the department will take a "deeper look at the statistical data, and if we determine that changes to training or practices would be appropriate, we'll make them."
Although other Wake County towns have local rules that outlaw speeding, their officers are hesitant to use them. Cary police don't. Garner police rarely do, fearful they'll be accused of favoritism.
"That's a whole can of worms our guys don't want to get into," said Garner Sgt. Joe Binns, spokesman for the department. "You have to explain ... why you did this for one person and not another."
Police have wide discretion when dealing with speeders. They can simply scold the driver or, in extreme circumstances, haul him to jail. Raleigh police officials say an officer's decision is based on the driver's threat to public safety and the driver's own well-being. Good manners and a clean record go a long way. So does repentance.
"Most people are sorry," Bryant said. "The ones that turn green and look like they are going to throw up on you, you know they are telling the truth."
Officers also put stock in the driver's account of his ticket history. Those who report they've had few are most likely to get a break. Officers aren't required to check their story.
According to an N&O analysis of Raleigh police records, it looks as though officers have been fooled quite often.
About 38 percent of 8,071 drivers treated to a city code citation since 2001 had gotten a previous ticket in that period. Nearly 1,600 had two or more previous tickets. Seven had 10 or more speeding tickets before Raleigh police gave them a break.
Some really played their cards right: 175 of these drivers managed to score two city code citations during the five years.
Staff writer Mandy Locke can be reached at (919) 829-8927 or email@example.com.