North Hampton - Anatomy of a speed trap

“Reduced speed ahead. Speed checked by radar.”

The warning looms at each end of the village, advising approaching motorists that North Hampton police take speed enforcement seriously.

A News-Sun investigation of police ticketing practices found officers wrote 1,296 citations in 2008, nearly four times more traffic tickets than the 352 people who live in North Hampton. That’s a higher rate than any other village in Clark and Champaign county and near the top in the state.

Village officials and area law enforcement don’t hide the fact that they ticket heavile. Their greatest safety concern in their town is speed, they say.

But they do mind the label placed on them — “speed trap.”

“To me entrapment is when you’re presenting something (false) and then luring them in,” said Chief Jarrod Campbell, North Hampton Police Department. “We don’t force people to speed.”

Some tall tales have emerged from the North Hampton speed trap legend, which dates back at least to the early 1990s. Stories that motorists are ticketed when traveling just a few miles an hour over the speed limit appear to be unfounded, according to 2008 data. All of the speeding tickets issued that year were written to drivers who exceeded the speed limit by 10 mph or more.

“I’ve been here for nine years, I’ve never written one like that,” said Campbell. “If any of my officers ever wrote one, I’d like to know about it.”

The volume of citations is fierce. In 2008, the village ranked fifth among traffic caseloads in Ohio’s 330 mayor’s courts, according to Ohio Supreme Court data.

Some of those citations were written for lesser offenses such as missing plate lights or a cracked windshield.

Steve Lannom got a ticket for a loud muffler just two weeks after the catalytic converter was stolen from his car.

Lannom went to mayor’s court in North Hampton and the charge was dropped, but he felt it never should have been brought in the first place.

“I think it’s taking it a little bit too far,” he said. “A warning would have been better.”

Village's reputation precedes it

In late 2008, Cynthia Rice planned to spend her Saturday like many other local residents do in October — she piled her two granddaughters into the car and headed to a fall festival.

Her journey would take her north from Springfield along Ohio 41 through a tiny village whose name, to some, is synonymous with “speed trap.”

“One of the last things my husband said to me before I was going out was, ‘Don’t forget about North Hampton,’” said Rice.

She didn’t.

Rice, who said she had not received a traffic ticket in her life, obeyed the village speed limit, 35 mph, but was surprised when she was pulled over anyway.

Rice was cited for “following too close” according to North Hampton Police Department records.

“I never thought I was that close to (the vehicle ahead) that I couldn’t have stopped when he stopped,” she said. “I was totally floored.”

The village’s reputation as a speed trap has endured since at least the mid 1990s. A dispute from that time over whether village police ticket too heavily eventually found its way into the 2nd District Court of Appeals in 2001.

The village’s reputation is untrue and undeserved, according to North Hampton police, residents and village officials.

“Just because you had a group of people who thought it was a speed trap at one time doesn’t make it a speed trap,” said Rick Shaw, village councilman. “To me a speed trap is a matter of opinion. And the people who think this is a speed trap are the ones who got the tickets.”

But a review of all the tickets written in 2008 found the village police department’s ticket-writing policies enables the village to pay for nearly the entire cost for running its police department from the proceeds of the tickets. The village police write tickets at a rate higher than all but four other small communities in the state, and at a rate much higher than larger cities.

Tickets in 2008

An examination of all traffic citations issued by North Hampton police in 2008 found 1,296 tickets were issued, more than three tickets for every resident in the village. There are 352 residents in the village, according to the latest U.S. Census estimates.

The same year, Springfield police issued one traffic ticket for every 14 residents, and in Urbana, police there wrote one ticket for every nine residents.

Campbell said a comparison of the number of tickets written in 2008 against the village population is an unfair measure of police work in North Hampton.

“We have a large amount of vehicles that go through the village,” he said. “You have to look at the traffic flow, not what the size of the town or village is.”

Ohio 41 is not a sleepy, rural thoroughfare. It is the most direct route between two county seats — Troy and Springfield. According to a 2008 survey conducted by the Ohio Department of Transportation, 5,040 cars and trucks travel through North Hampton every day —more than 1.8 million vehicles a year.

That volume plays some role in the village’s numbers.

But compared statewide, the village still stood out. North Hampton had the fifth-highest traffic caseloads of all 330 mayor’s courts in the state — with 375 cases per 100 people.

It is more than double the rate of the next-highest mayors court in the region, Tremont City.

In Springfield and Urbana municipal courts, that figure is much lower, at 6.7 and 10.2 cases per 100 people respectively.

Campbell defends his department’s practices. He said his department is enforcing the law in a small village where the largest threat to the residents’ safety lies along Ohio 41.

“We can’t afford to have people go 50 and 60 miles an hour through here,” he said.

“If you don’t want to do the speed limit, you need to go around us.”

According to the Ohio Highway Patrol, Springfield Post, three accidents were reported in or around North Hampton’s stretch of Ohio 41 between 2006 and 2008. In Donnelsville, a village of comparable size, seven accidents were recorded in that same time period on its main thoroughfare, U.S. Route 40.

Campbell said village police handle about five traffic accidents a year in that stretch of road.

To village councilman Keith Baldwin, characterizations that the village is a speed trap and complaints about the number of tickets are the results of bitterness on the part of some motorists.

“You’re talking (about) people who are unhappy with the situation they put themselves in,” said Baldwin. “The officer didn’t put them in that situation, (the driver) made a choice.”

Karen Benton, associate professor of criminal justice at Urbana University, said the small-size of a village affects what the residents want their police to do.

“Officers in smaller towns naturally engage in a ‘community-policing’ approach,” she said. “They work in partnership with community members to determine the issues to be addressed and how to resolve them.”

Campbell said drawing a correlation between what North Hampton police do with other larger law enforcement agencies is unjust.

“We don’t have the calls for service that Springfield does,” he said. “We’re a small village.”

Once ticketed, drivers may appear before mayor’s court, held every other week. Fines for speeding and other traffic violations in the village added up in 2008 to anywhere from as low as $15 to $470 for one driver convicted of multiple offenses. Anyone ticketed in North Hampton has the option of asking the village magistrate to transfer their case to Clark County Municipal Court and have the fines paid there, but few took that option in 2008, according to the review.

What the tickets were for

Many tickets issued by North Hampton police in 2008 included multiple violations. Tickets weren’t issued for speed alone — one ticket could include a citation for speed and also for violations such as failure to wear a seat belt, driving under the influence or expired license plates.

Speed was the citation issued the most, accounting for 55 percent of tickets written, according to the News-Sun review. Fifteen percent of tickets written included citations for seat belt violations.

For the stretch through town of Ohio 41, no speeding tickets were issued for drivers for speeds less than 45 mph in the 35 mph zone. The village’s police cruisers are equipped with video equipment which tapes each stop, showing the radar reading and the car in the same frame. That is meant to address the persistent claim by motorists that they were ticketed for speeds above what they say they were driving.

“What I’ve told people since I’ve been involved with the village is if you find a citation that’s two, three, four, five miles over the speed limit, I’ll buy the steak dinner,” said Baldwin. “And you won’t see one as long as I’m involved.”

Some of the traffic stops detailed unusual circumstances:

• In one instance in Oct. 2008, a motorist was ticketed for driving without a license. After the officer established that the vehicle belonged to the driver’s wife, the motorist was driven home where his wife was issued a ticket for wrongful entrustment.

• Another driver passed a cruiser as it executed a traffic stop and swerved his truck toward the patrol car as if he was about to hit it, according to court records. The driver righted his vehicle, passed the cruiser again and flashed an obscene gesture at the officer.

The driver was pulled over and cited for failure to use due caution when approaching a public safety vehicle and reckless operation.

• Other drivers were ticketed for less-common offenses such as failure to dim headlights, dark window tints, not having license plate lighst and failure to yield right of way.

Of nearly 1,300 traffic tickets written in 2008, six were issued to North Hampton residents. More motorists with Indiana addresses, 17, received traffic tickets than North Hampton residents.

Campbell said that’s because North Hampton residents are a small minority traveling the main thoroughfare. People who don’t live in North Hampton travel Ohio 41 more often than the people who do, he said.

“We’re not going to be targeting a certain group of people, I think we treat everybody fairly,” said Campbell. “If we get a village resident in the wrong, then they’re treated just like anybody else.”


The speed trap label was wrapped around the village for the first time in the early 1990s, said Baldwin.

Former police chief R.K. Whaley was accused of operating a speed trap and residents along Ohio 41 just outside the village erected lighted signs warning of traffic enforcement in North Hampton.

Other local residents took their complaints to court.

In Bowshier v. North Hampton, filed in 1996, area residents alleged the village had been “illegally issuing speeding tickets on state Route 41 based on limits that were below those allowed by state law,” according to court documents.

The 2nd District of Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the village in 2002, ruling that the speed limit in the village wasn’t contrary to the Ohio Revised Traffic Code. The speed limit on Ohio 41 outside the village is 55 mph and is 35 mph in the village along Ohio 41.

North Hampton resident Angela Colchin said she’s happy the speed limit is 35 mph and she’s satisfied with the work the police are doing.

“I enjoy them being there, I feel very safe,” she said.

Colchin is one of many residents who owns a home along Ohio 41. She said the amount of traffic leaves her concerned for her safety and that of her young daughter.

“Our backyards are huge, but the front yards are really small,” she said.

Whether the numbers put up by village police make the community a speed trap a speed trap is “largely subjective,” said Benton.

“You won’t find a lot of research on the subject,” she said.

Benton said there are no clear measurements and a speed trap can be defined based on a number of factors including number of tickets, size of the population and traffic flow.

Where the money went

The North Hampton police department is funded almost entirerly by fines from traffic tickets and criminal and misdemeanor offenses. The department has no full-time employees; everyone, including the chief, works part-time and often patrols on days after they have already worked another job.

In 2008, the village collected $198,268 in fines. The cost of funding the police department was $218,914, leaving a $20,646 deficit.

That shortage was paid for out of the village’s general fund, said Baldwin.

The largest share of the police department’s 2008 funding went to wages, $91,492.

In 2008, there were 11 part-time police department employees paid by the hour, according to Jennifer Baldwin, village treasurer:

• Chief Jarrod Campbell, $26,502.96 — $15 an hour.

• Lt. R. Terry, $20,965.79 — $12 an hour.

• Sgt. James Sparks, $12,737.50 — $10 an hour.

• Eight officers were paid between $8 and $8.50 an hour and earned between $2,260 and $5,284 for a combined total of $26,034.98.

Due to the deficit in 2008, five positions were cut, said Keith Baldwin.

Baldwin said that there is no gold mine in traffic citations.

“The village doesn’t get a financial windfall from this,” he said.

‘I back these guys 100 percent’

In addition to being a village councilman, Rick Shaw is also a firefighter for German Twp.

Shaw said he appreciates the work North Hampton police do, because if they didn’t, he would be among the rescue workers on the scene in case of an accident.

“I back these guys 100 percent,” he said. “I choose to live here because of this police department.”

Cynthia Rice said the citation she received for following too closely had a long-lasting impact.

Rice’s car insurance went up more than 70 dollars a year after receiving the one and only traffic ticket of her life.

“My ticket was $100... my insurance went up $70 to $80, and that’s going to stay on there,” she said. “I feel like I’m still paying the repercussions.”

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