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South Carolina Highway Patrol Investigating ‘Table Topping’

Phony citations?

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For years, this news outlet has chronicled serious, systemic issues within the South Carolina Department of Public Safety (SCDPS) – a mission critical state agency which was supposed to be turning itself around following the disastrous tenure of ex-director Leroy Smith, an appointee of former governor Nikki Haley.

SCDPS’ most visible subsidiary is the S.C. Highway Patrol (SCHP) – an agency which enforces traffic laws on Palmetto State roadways and leads investigations into (rising) highway fatalities.

For years, troopers haven’t been paid enough money – and haven’t been given the resources necessary to do the job (which has become increasingly dangerous). They’ve also been forced by upper management to use illegal quotas.

The S.C. Code of Laws § 23-1-245 expressly forbids the use of quotas by leaders at public safety agencies.

“A law enforcement agency, department, or division may not require a law enforcement officer employed by the agency, department, or division to issue a specific amount or meet a quota for the number of citations he issues during a designated period of time,” the law states.

In early 2020, SCDPS director Robert G. Woods IV issued a memo (.pdf) to his commanders ostensibly affirming this prohibition.

Did they listen? Eh …

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Now a new scandal is brewing at SCHP – one allegedly originating from the rank-and-file and filtering its way up the chain of command. Investigations into this scandal are currently underway in at least two of the Palmetto State’s seven SCHP “troops” – which are assigned to protect roadways in different regions of the state.

According to our sources, the scandal involves troopers who have been assigned – or who want to be assigned – to units using so-called “specialized vehicles,” specifically unmarked, striped Dodge Chargers equipped with the police pursuit package. These vehicles are part of elite enforcement units devoted to “curtailing a surge in aggressive and reckless driving behaviors on our roadways,” according to SCDPS.

Last year, SCHP colonel Chris Williamson discussed the use of these “specialized vehicles” in a video addressing elevated highway fatality rates – indicating they were being used by the patrol “to blend in with traffic and detect and enforce aggressive driving behavior.”

“We are using a variety of unmarked vehicles in addition to various marked vehicles,” Williamson said. “These unmarked vehicles will primarily be used for enforcement of particularly aggressive driving behaviors – but our troopers will enforce any and all traffic laws using these vehicles as well.”

(Click to View)

SCDPS/ YouTube

The problem? According to our sources, there is a surge within SCHP of “enforcing” phantom violations in an effort to pad agency numbers – and the numbers of these elite units.

This “padding” – known within SCHP as “table topping” – occurs when troopers surreptitiously add fraudulent warnings to citations issued during traffic stops. And do so without the driver being the wiser.

Here’s how it works: Picture yourself being pulled over by a trooper – who after checking your license, registration and proof of insurance decides to issue a citation for speeding (a.k.a. “give you a ticket”). Maybe you get cut some slack on the speed (and the points), maybe not. Either way, upon receiving your ticket you huff and puff a bit … but eventually, you pull back into the roadway knowing you’ll soon be paying the piper (both the government and your car insurance provider) for your lead foot.

Unbeknownst to you, though, back at the roadside scene you just departed the trooper is sitting in their striped Charger busily issuing warnings against you for other, unrelated violations – whether they actually happened or not.

Defective windshields and busted taillights are among the most common “padding” violations. So are warnings for not having one’s license, registration or proof of insurance at the time of a traffic stop.

Hold up, though … in our fictitious hypothetical, you were in possession of all three of those items, right? You gave them all to the trooper, right? And your windshield and taillights were in perfect working order, right?

Right … hence the scam.

(Click to View)

An unmarked Dodge Charger with racing stripes. (SCDPS)

These added warnings do not impact your driving record – or your insurance bill – but they do allow the trooper to record additional “contacts” with the motoring public, thus padding their activity log. In other words, a trooper can cite two, three or four warning “contacts” from one traffic stop and basically double, triple or quadruple the amount of “work” done on a given day.

And that “work” determines a lot of things within SCHP … like who gets to drive the striped Chargers and who doesn’t.

And again … all of this is accomplished without the motorist even knowing they’ve been “warned.”

According to our sources, one state trooper has submitted more than 300 of these fictitious warnings since the beginning of this year. All told, the total number of fictitious warnings likely totals “in the thousands” over the same time period.

“People get fired for falsifying time sheets – this is no different,” one source familiar with the situation told me. “This is fraud.”

“Table topping” is nothing new, either. According to our sources, it was happening at SCDPS in the early part of the 2000s prior to current S.C. State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) chief Mark Keel taking the reins of the agency in 2008 and putting a stop to the practice. Keel left SCDPS for SLED three years later.

Another source who confirmed the internal SCDPS investigations said they feared the scandal would be swept under the rug by the agency due to its desire to expand the size and scope of the elite enforcement units – and continue using access to these vehicles as an incentive for enforcement “contacts.”

“It’s going to get buried,” the source said. “How else are they going to pay for those Chargers?”

This news outlet has spent years pushing legislators and executive branch leaders to do right by SCHP – especially the brave men and women who take to our highways each day in an increasingly dangerous world. And to be clear, we will continue to advocate for core functions of government (chief among them law enforcement) to be funded in a manner commensurate with their significance in our society – and their indispensability in terms of protecting life, liberty and property.

But make no mistake: If troopers are fabricating warnings to artificially inflate “contacts” on our roadways, that is definitional fraud. And SCDPS must conduct a thorough internal investigation into its perpetrators and its prevalence.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR ...

Will Folks on phone
Will Folks (Brett Flashnick)

Will Folks is the founding editor of the news outlet you are currently reading. Prior to founding FITSNews, he served as press secretary to the governor of South Carolina. He lives in the Midlands region of the state with his wife and seven children.

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4 comments

dwb619 Top fan May 15, 2023 at 11:00 pm

NEVER been stopped by the SCHP when I was innocent. BTW,been over 45 years since I had a ticket. On side note,act like you have a little sense and you will have no problem. Case in point,4 years ago on the Harley SuperGlide-red and white with straight pipes-ticket bait,right. Left Belvedere passed thru Edgefield on way to Mauldin. Just couple miles north of Edgefield on US 25 noticed a silver Ford F 150 with camper shell behind me. Held speed between 60 and 65 all the way into Greenwood,cept twice when pushed up to 70+ to pass tractor trailers,and the pick up sat there 100 feet behind the whole way. Stopped at red light on 25 and Greenwood by pass ,when it pulled up beside ,tooted the horn. Looked over and saw the SCHP decal on fender. He smiled and gave me a thumps up and pointed to my personalized tag. HD-USA.

Reply
G Top fan May 16, 2023 at 7:44 am

The #2 at the SCHP rose through the ranks by writing the largest number of tickets so it’s ingrained in the culture

Reply
Flossip Top fan May 17, 2023 at 8:03 am

That’s a funding source for them (and the same for sheriff’s offices that have real estate with interstates). It’s never going to stop.

Reply
Tar guard May 18, 2023 at 9:49 pm

The State Highway Patrol is tax funded, not ticket funded. You easily find that in the State Statutes.

Reply

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