Oklahoma towns rely on police to generate revenue, keep citizens safe

Even though many drivers view Kiowa as just another speed trap in southeast Oklahoma, Police Chief Tony Runyon said he is just protecting the residents of his town from a dangerous road he calls “blood highway.”
by Andrew Knittle Modified: January 26, 2014 at 10:00 pm •  Published: January 26, 2014

Even though many drivers view this small community as just another speed trap in southeast Oklahoma, Police Chief Tony Runyon said he is just protecting the residents of his town from a dangerous highway that leads into north Texas.

Motorists pulled over and ticketed by Runyon's police department call the town a speed trap.

Like many towns in this part of Oklahoma, Kiowa has a bad reputation, both in cyberspace and the real world. The ticketed — who often view themselves as victims — publicly rant about the practices and methods of the Kiowa Police Department and others like it.

Some of the towns in question are violating state law, allowing officers to write so many traffic tickets that more than half of the towns' revenue is traceable to police-related activities.

Others aren't speed traps, the tickets written by their police officers deemed appropriate by the state Department of Public Safety. But they live with the stigma just the same.

Attempts to get information from the state Department of Public Safety regarding the exact number of towns determined to be speed traps since 2004 have not been successful.

The Oklahoman requested the information from the state agency Dec. 18. To date, not a single piece of data has been received.

Closed down

Once the speed trap label is determined to be appropriate for a town, the police department is no longer allowed to patrol stretches of state and federal highways inside the city limits. This typically leads to the closure of the departments, Runyon said.

“It's sad,” he said. “There are citizens that have come to rely on these officers ... so what happens to them?”

Several towns had action taken against them in the mid-2000s after a state law went into effect that allowed Oklahoma residents to request an investigation of a police department suspected of running a speed trap.

Big Cabin, Stringtown, Moffett and Shamrock were among the first towns affected by the law.

In July 2012, the town of Dickson was deemed a speed trap by the state Department of Public Safety. Last week, the town of Stringtown once again was sanctioned for writing too many traffic tickets.

Stringtown, one of the most notorious speed traps in Oklahoma, was stripped of its ticket-writing authority after a complaint was sent to the Department of Public Safety by the state Attorney General's office.

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by Andrew Knittle
Investigative Reporter
Andrew Knittle has covered state water issues, tribal concerns and major criminal proceedings during his career as an Oklahoma journalist. He has won reporting awards from the state's Associated Press bureau and prides himself on finding a real...
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