BuzzFeed story highlights PAPD’s Antoine; paints city in dim light

Published 6:37 pm Wednesday, January 27, 2016


By Sherry Koonce and Mary Meaux

The New staff writers

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An article published Wednesday in BuzzFeed, an online social news and entertainment company, features Port Arthur’s Rickey Antoine, arguably the city’s super cop, and the money generated from the many tickets he has issued since the city established a dedicated traffic unit about nine years ago.

While the article appears to be factual, it is written in a way that casts the city in a negative light, and could even be called sensational journalism.

At least that’s what some city officials say, including Antoine.

“It’s not close to depicting Port Arthur and the people who live in it,” Antoine said. “It does not describe the city I live and work in.”

District 3 City Councilman Morris Albright believes the story is sensationalized.

Albright said he read the article and did not agree with what it said — how it on the one hand praised Antoine’s abilities to do the job he was directed to do, and on the other hand was slanted to disparage the city.

“I was shocked and amazed when I read the article,” Albright said. “I don’t believe the article to be entirely factual. The way the article is written it puts the city in a bad light,” Albright said.

Entitled, “The Ticket Machine,” the article describes Antoine as an officer known around Port Arthur “as the man who gave his own mother a traffic ticket.”

Up until recently Antoine was unaware BuzzFeed was an Internet media company — until he became the focus of a story about his ticketing motorists.

Reporters with BuzzFeed spent a few days in Port Arthur beginning with the municipal court searching records for what they called a disparity in the amounts of fees and tickets issued by the city’s traffic unit.

Antoine said the reporters were pointed in his direction after they wondered at the number of people going to municipal court.

In 2007, Antoine was selected by bosses at the police department to be part of the special unit focusing on traffic.

Since then, with the aid of a plumped up traffic unit that grew to eight officers and four license plate readers, the city has benefitted financially from the motorists who were unlucky enough to cross paths with Antoine and the traffic unit officers.

In the process, the city’s yearly revenue from fines has soared from $750,000 in 2006 upwards to $2.2 million in 2012 and most recently, $1.5 million.

While that may sound like a windfall, the article said the extra cash came from the pocketbooks of the city’s poor, who often found themselves in jail after when they could not afford to pay their fines.

And, most of those placed behind bars — about 75 percent — are blacks, a group that makes up about 40 precent of the city’s population.

Not so fast, Albright said.

For an outstanding traffic ticket to mount up to $1,500 in fines as was depicted in the article, someone had to be ignoring court summons.

“The only way someone is going to get hit for $1,500 bucks like that is after two or three failures to appear,” Albright said.

Former Port Arthur City Councilman Bob Williamson, who retired from the police department prior to running for Council, said he had not read the article, but is familiar with how the traffic unit was established, and why.

“The idea of traffic enforcement had nothing to do with revenue producing, but had to do with saving lives,” Williamson said. “We were losing an average of four people a year to murder, but were losing 20 or more to traffic accidents.”

The traffic unit was started, Williamson said, when the city’s traffic increased significantly due to workers driving into town for the Motiva Enterprises expansion.

“The idea of a traffic unit was to lower traffic deaths substantially, and it has done that” Williamson said.

Some of those years since the traffic enforcement unit has been in place were busier than other years. Refinery expansions bring in workers from not only the city but across the nation in addition to the normal traffic.

“When you have a city like Port Arthur with different expansions going on you have to deal with that. Thousands more people come to our city and that’s what we deal with,” Antoine said. “The more cars, the more people you start dealing with. That’s the nature of the job.”

The city’s traffic unit scouts the normal thoroughfares including Gulfway Drive, Twin City Highway, (FM) 365, West Port Arthur Road, Ninth Avenue, Procter Street and Memorial Boulevard.

“Those are the areas we normally concentrate on, the places people are having the most crashes and the most deaths in those particular areas,” Antoine said.

When Police Chief Mark Blanton suggested the purchase of four license plates readers for about $24,000 each, Williamson said he did not hesitate to vote yes.

“Those readers are excellent equipment,” he said.

They are designed to catch scofflaws (someone that scoffs at the law), those habitual offenders who don’t pay their fines, but continue to drive,” Williamson said.

License plate readers were so successful in Port Arthur that other cities asked to use them, he said.

“The license plate readers, they paid for themselves,” Williamson said. “They were about $24,000 a piece, those expenses were recovered during the first two weeks because so many people out there had warrants.”

Williamson said he does believe a disproportionate number of black residents were arrested over warrants, but believed it was economically motived.

“I would say the economic aspect of it is the cause of that. If you are poor and you don’t have the money, so you don’t fix what is wrong with your car, then you get a ticket for no inspection, but you continue to drive,” Williamson said.

Others simply find it difficult to pay their traffic tickets because they don’t make much money.

“Driving is not a right, it is a privilege that comes with wealth,” Williamson said. “Poor people driving 5,000 pound cars will kill just as many people as rich people driving 5,000 pound cars,” Williamson said.

Though the driving public may not be pleased with Antoine, the dedication to his job has not gone unnoticed. The Texas Department of Transportation’s Statewide Transportation Enhancement Program named Antoine the 2008 Traffic Officer of the Year.

Antoine gets a lot of flack for his ticketing but he spares no one, as was stated in the BuzzFeed story.

“Black, white, Asian, Middle Eastern, they will also say he will issue you a ticket and all of them will say in the same voice I was fair to them,” he told The News. “The only thing they were mad at was they went away with a ticket not a warning. It is what it is,” he said. “It’s not always a nice meeting. Some people want to shake your hand and some want to bite it.”