Arizona Department of Public Safety officers have dramatically cut back on writing traffic tickets. The Arizona Republic says it is not clear whether the slowdown is on-the-job “blue flu” by officers disgruntled about low pay or the result of an understaffed force that is near the breaking point. Traffic offenses submitted by state officers to Maricopa County Justice Court records dropped 44 percent from May 2003. “Since the pay issue came up, we’ve heard rumors that we’ve got a small group of people doing this,” said Lt. Col. Bill Reutter, who oversees the Highway Patrol. “Ninety-seven percent of our people are hard-working. They do a great job out there busting their butts every day.” Reutter and other officials believe that staffing shortages, an increase in traffic accidents, and a special enforcement program explain the decline in tickets.
Sgt. Bill Whalen, chairman of the Arizona State Troopers Labor Council, blamed a staffing drain caused by low pay, noting that Highway Patrol officers are leaving for other enforcement agencies. “It’s not the blue flu, it’s the tan runs,” Whalen said, referring to the khaki uniform worn by officers. “I have never, ever seen it this bad. Morale? You bet we’ve got a problem.” There are about 1,100 sworn state officers in Arizona, 850 of whom patrol highways. The Metro Division, which covers Maricopa County, is short-handed by 52 Highway Patrol officers and is struggling to find qualified recruits.