Officer Helps Court Rake In The Bucks


The signs that hang on his wall serve as constant reminders that his mission is an important one.

"Leaving these fines uncollected is comparable to walking a convicted criminal to prison and then leaving him outside the gate." --New York Sen. Alfonse D'amato.

"An uncollected fine is an untaught lesson in accountability." --Frank X Gordon, Chief Justice.

These are just some of the sentiments that keep Payson Police Officer David Paul on the heels of defendants failing to pay their fines to local and county courts.

Paul was assigned to the Payson Justice and Municipal courts last November, charged with the daunting task of collecting the hundreds of thousands of dollars that defendants fail to pay to the court each year.

"In my first 90 days with the court, we brought in about $70,000," Paul said.

Judge Pro Tem Dorothy Little said Paul collected $163,000 in one year that the court might not otherwise have seen.

The officer said when most people owe a fine to the court, they tend to put it off until the last minute, or forget about it all together.

"I hate to equate it to (Arizona Public Service), but most people won't think about paying their electric bill until they get their statement in the mail," he said. "When people owe a fine, I would say about 85 percent of them won't make a payment until they get a reminder card in the mail."

Paul said the two courts average 10,000 cases a year.

His initial contact with a defendant generally comes after the person either pleads or is found guilty by the court. That defendant will then stop by Paul's office at the courthouse and fill out a questionnaire, detailing their monthly financial responsibilities. Between the two of them, they'll determine a minimum monthly payment to be made to the court, and will sign a sort of promissory note to that effect.

In his first year as the collection officer, he contacted 5,685 of those defendants, averaging 40 calls a day.

"People are generally cooperative when I contact them," he said. "Every once in a while I'll get someone who'll say I'm being unreasonable, but I remind them that this is an obligation. They either pay, or they go to jail."

Judge Pro Tem Dorothy Little said she feels the new program has been extremely successful.

"We'd like to beef up on it a little," she said. "We'd like to get him out in the field a little more, but we don't have the capabilities of doing that right now."

Initially funded by a grant from the Arizona Supreme Court, officials predicted that eventually Paul's position would become self-funded. While some taxpayers scoffed at the thought -- "there's no such thing as a self-funded government program," said one nay-sayer --Little said she thinks it has done just that.

"We're seeing a steady flow of money, of compliance," she said. "I think because we're keeping better tabs on our defendants, we're going a lot better."

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