The Latest

THE LATEST

THE LATEST THINKING

THE LATEST THINKING

The opinions of THE LATEST’s guest contributors are their own.

Revenue or Public Safety?

W. Scott Cole

Posted on September 9, 2019 01:03

1 user

Get a traffic ticket, pay a fine. You broke the law and the fine is your penalty. Every law enforcement agency will tell you that the reasons for the traffic laws are public safety. They aren’t wrong… cars violating traffic laws do endanger the public, but how many of those fines from traffic citations are excessive and written solely as a way to raise revenue for the cities?

It is a fact of modern life that, if you drive and speed, run red lights, fail to use turn signals, or any of a myriad of other traffic violations, you will get a ticket and pay a fine. It is true that public safety is involved. Speed limits and other laws are necessary in today’s society. They do save lives. They also raise revenue for the cities whose officers write the tickets. The problem arises when the cities decide the money from fines is a great way to raise revenue.

A very controversial document came to light recently about the police department of Ferguson MO. Yes, that Ferguson. It is dated March 4, 2015, shortly after the events that thrust Ferguson into the national spotlight. The document is the results of an investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice into the Ferguson Police Department and the municipal courts of the city. It is a very interesting 105 page report, although quite dry.

It found that police practices, patrol assignments, and schedules were shaped to maximize revenue. Never mind public safety; how much money can we get for the city coffers? The result was predictable: a pattern of traffic stops without reasonable suspicion, arrests without probable cause, infringement of free expression, retaliation for protected expression, excessive force, and very little meaningful attention paid to citizen complaints.

Ferguson isn’t alone. Just this month, a report was published about the growing problem of towns and cities that rely more and more on traffic fines to grow their budgets. On I75, in Turner County, Georgia, flashing lights from the police cruisers of several municipalities, such as Warwick and Norman Park, are a common sight. These speed traps, along with traffic camers, parking violations, and code enforcement sometimes make up more than half of a city’s annual budget. In some places, revenue from traffic citations actually exceed state law limitations.

The problem exists in every state in the nation, with Georgia and Louisiana leading in the number of municipalities using excessive fines and tickets to generate revenue. The worst, Georgetown, Louisiana, derives 92% of it’s budget from traffic citations. It is closely followed by Fenton, Louisiana, at 91%. In fact, 8 of the top 10 cities that use their police departments to raise revenue are in Louisiana.

Here in the metro area of Colorado, it seems to be the red light cameras that are the means of raising revenue. A friend not long ago was caught by a camera in Denver. It cost him $40. Go just a few miles to the east, in the suburb of Commerce City, that same violation will cost you $90 (ask me how I know). The citizens of another suburb, Aurora, voted to eliminate red light cameras there. Within a few months, the police were reporting a $5 million shortage in their budget before the end of the fiscal year.

It seems to be a fine line between public safety and making money, doesn’t it?

W. Scott Cole

Posted on September 9, 2019 01:03

Comments

comments powered by Disqus
Source: Reuters

Rapper Meek Mill on Tuesday will appeal a Pennsylvania judge's decision to sentence him to up to four years in prison for...

THE LATEST THINKING

Video Site Tour

The Latest
The Latest

Subscribe to THE LATEST Newsletter.

The Latest
The Latest

Share this TLT through...

The Latest