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Report: Springdale, Utah Speed Trap Targets Foreign Tourists

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Road trip in Zion National Park

Road trip in Zion National Park

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Speed traps can ruin a summer road trip. It's not just the cost of the ticket that makes your blood boil; it's also that feeling that you're being targeted for being an out-of-towner, seen as a cash cow for a cash-strapped county.

Most of us just grin, bear it, and try to move on. But according to a report in the Wall Street Journal, one U.S. tourist visiting from Spain was so outraged by police conduct in Springdale, Utah, she filed a complaint. And now that complaint has triggered a potentially damning audit of the local police department.

The fateful event

In October of last year, an unnamed Spanish tourist was driving through Springdale, probably on her way to the spectacular Zion National Park nearby. She was pulled over for speeding -- which would've been no big deal, had the police officer not then demanded that she pay him the fine immediately, in cash.

But this tourist was no chump. She filed a complaint with the state of Utah, which set off an investigation led by Utah State Auditor Auston Johnson. 


Preliminary results from Johnson's investigation have uncovered a total of $11,640 in fines collected from foreign tourists during the first ten months of 2011. The actual figure could be much higher, since roughly 1/3 of the citation documents Johnson examined were missing, meaning that those citations could've been written and subsequently destroyed after tourists made their payments, leaving cops to pocket the cash.

Of course, it's important to note that in smaller towns, it's not uncommon for law enforcement agents to demand immediate payment of traffic fines. That's particularly true when the speeders are foreign nationals, who may be difficult to track down later.

What makes the case in Springdale so unusual is that the agents were collecting cash themselves rather than referring people to the local traffic court. There was no opportunity for appeal, which makes these stops look one step shy of a shakedown.

According to Springdale city officials, the police had an agreement with the courts that allowed them to collect fines. However, Johnson has no record of such an agreement. 

Springdale's chief of police, Kurt Wright, says that the department has now stopped accepting cash, upon the auditor's recommendation. However, he also says that an internal investigation has cleared his officers of any wrongdoing.

Bottom line: whether you're spending your summer vacation in Zion or on the Zuiderzee, be on the lookout for speed traps -- and be sure to share any interesting stories with us. (That goes for you law enforcement agents, too.)

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Comments (7)
  1. "Report: Springdale, Utah Speed Trap Targets Foreign Tourists"

    That's because they are called "Soft Targets". Maine does the same thing with tourist even though they depend on Tourism to to help supplement their greedy tax policy which is used mostly for social programs. The facts are there on the Net is one cares to do the research.

  2. Nothing more than illegal extortion completely violating ALL of any person's Constitutional rights. No jack booted speed cop has any right to demand payment of any kind. That is totally usurping the the power of the Courts and it makes no diff. whether the person in question is a foreign national or a U.S. Citizen.

  3. Most states require police officers to take bond money from violators who live out side of the US and also US citizens who do not have a valid driver license or are not members of the (nrvc) compact. The reason is there is no way to ensure the violators court appearance or payment of the ticket. The violator may still contest the charge in court either way. Posting bond does not admit guilt. Members of (nrvc) can have their license suspended for failure to pay traffic fine so they are given a courtesy summons. They can either come to court or let the bond stand as the fine!

  4. Anything the police do to "entrap" a motorist should be illegal including hiding behind buildings, trees, billboards, dip in the road, in a drive or road off the highway, behind a bridge abutment. They go after foreign drivers plus out of state ones as they know they are most likely on vacation and either won't or don't want to go to court and fight it. So they just pay the fine. It's like shooting fish in a barrel or as my dad says they are basically sitting ducks. First thing every driver should do is buy a radar dectector. I won't drive without one. First time it goes off it'll pay for itself. ANYTHING the average driver can do to beat the cops at these "speed traps" or as I call them "revenue generators" is fair and legal in my opinion.

  5. @biochfan: ok, ok cops do hide behind things and get all sneaky to catch speeders (as well as APBs, DWIs and a litany of other issues too long to belabor here). Ya Wanna know WHY we hide?? Because every single bloody time you SEE us you get a dose of religion and do it the right way RIGHT UP TILL YOU DON'T SEE US ANY MORE!!! So we sometimes take the "seeing us" out of the equation on occasion. Are you also recomending that the next time I investigate a child molester I just set up a pair of 6x20 binocculars on a tripod on their front lawn? You don't always do stupid stuff where i can if you DO alot of stupid stuff...I'm alowing you the visual peace of mind of doing in my line of sight what you'd normally do any darn way.

  6. "However, he also says that an internal investigation has cleared his officers of any wrongdoing."

    Right. Much more likely that he's on the take as well.

  7. I'm sorry but on THIS post i think i agree, Jeff

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