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APNewsBreak: Iowa trooper wrote just 8 tickets as candidate

An Iowa highway patrolman who was recently elected to the Legislature wrote almost no tickets to his future constituents during his successful campaign for a state House seat.

Posted: Mar 20, 2019 6:33 AM

BROOKLYN, Iowa (AP) — An Iowa highway patrolman who was recently elected to the Legislature wrote almost no tickets to his future constituents during his successful campaign for a state House seat.

The annual number of citations issued by Trooper Jon Thorup plummeted in 2018 as he mounted his first run for public office, reaching an all-time low in his long career. He issued a total of eight tickets during 155 shifts, or one for every 45 issued by the average trooper statewide in 2018. It was a fraction of the number Thorup wrote in the two prior years, when he averaged 117 annually.

Thorup did not cite a single distracted, drugged, drunken or reckless driver in 2018 and issued only two speeding tickets, according to Iowa State Patrol data obtained by The Associated Press under the open records law.

Thorup, a Republican from Knoxville, conceded that his ticket numbers were too low and that his superiors have long told him that. But he said they simply reflect his different philosophy than other troopers in how he does his job.

"Looking at the last year, could I have done more? Yeah. I wish I had," Thorup said in an interview with AP. "But even having said that, I was responding to things that also needed to be responded to. In rural Iowa we should be dealing with a lot of other stuff, too."

Megan Suhr, a Knoxville city councilor who ran the campaign of Thorup's Democratic opponent in the November election, said Thorup's low ticket numbers were a potential public safety concern and waste of tax dollars.

"It's fine to want to be everybody's friend but you still have a job to do," she said. "How do you justify paying salary and benefits to somebody that's not doing the work?"

Thorup said his police work will help him be an effective lawmaker, saying it puts him in close contact with constituents and gives him an informed perspective on rural law enforcement.

Thorup is vice chairman of the House Public Safety Committee. He is advocating for more funding for equipment and personnel, including more troopers and cold case agents, for the Iowa Department of Public Safety.

The data point to a potential conflict of interest for Thorup, the first active trooper in history to serve in the General Assembly. He patrols the same area that he represents, which means he can determine whether his constituents face charges or get off without consequences. Thorup issued 118 warnings in 2018, about one-quarter the number of average troopers, according to patrol data obtained under the open records law.

Thorup announced in early 2018 that he would run for an open seat representing his hometown of Knoxville and nearby towns. Thorup's two decades of public safety experience was the centerpiece of his campaign, with his website declaring, "He knows what it takes to make us safer."

Thorup defeated another Republican in the June primary, then beat Democrat Ann Fields in the November election, winning both races with more than 60 percent of the vote.

During the session, Thorup is on an unpaid leave of absence from his $85,000-per-year trooper job at the patrol's district office in Osceola but intends to return to duty when lawmakers finish their work this spring. He often works in Marion County but on some shifts is assigned to patrol a stretch of Interstate 35 outside of his legislative district.

Thorup, 42, said that he has always been a below-average ticket writer but that his numbers in 2018 were particularly low because he took more vacation than normal in order to campaign. He added that he was often tired during his shifts because of his off-duty political work.

He said the stretch of interstate he patrols is "more laid back" than others in the state and that there has been a decline in the number of drugged and drunken drivers on the road. He cited six drivers for not being properly licensed and two for speeding. He wrote his final citation of the year on Aug. 14, despite working dozens of shifts after that.

Thorup acknowledged his reputation as a friendly officer helped his campaign but denied that he changed his approach for politics. Thorup, who joined the department in 1996 at age 20, said that working with local sheriffs and fire departments to respond to calls in rural areas has always been his top priority.

He acknowledged that his superiors have consistently told him he should write more tickets, but that they have praised his performance in other areas. The patrol's new chief, Nathan Fulk, and spokesman Nathan Ludwig didn't respond to requests for comment about Thorup's ticket numbers.

Knoxville radio reporter Bob Leonard called Thorup a reliable and friendly presence at fires, car accidents and other emergency scenes. He said that he was once pulled over by Thorup for speeding years ago and let go with a warning.

"I know personally he does pull people over," Leonard said.

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