Sunday, April 12, 2015

Law enforcement as a profit center?

I was alarmed to read an article in Police Chief magazine titled 'Generating New Revenue Streams'.  (A tip o' the hat to reader Mike S. for sending me the link.)  It dates from 2010, but the points it raised have become more widespread since then - disturbingly so.  The article calls for police departments to actively seek to raise money through new charges imposed on the public and profit-making activities, to relieve the pressure on city budgets.  Here's a brief excerpt.

Five years ago, the current state of the economy facing cities and counties was not even a concern. Now, however, many law enforcement agencies are facing the reality of severe budget cuts, reduced workforce, and the elimination or reduction of many law enforcement programs. Today, police chiefs are being asked to look for ways of economizing, increasing efficiency, eliminating redundancies, and finding revenue sources.

This trend will be prompted in two possible ways. First, increasing financial pressure will require more severe budget cuts to the point that many agencies will be able to provide only basic services. Second, cities will begin to see successes at nearby agencies and look to new revenue streams as a panacea to forestall reduced services or even bankruptcy. Based on the research for this article, there is a clear presumption of need for law enforcement to generate new income streams. A first necessary step in that process is to examine possible revenue-generating ideas.

There's more at the link.

Among many ideas for revenue generation, the article lists the following:

  • fees for sex offenders registering in a given jurisdiction
  • city tow companies
  • fine increases by 50 percent
  • pay-per-call policing
  • police department-run online traffic school for minor traffic infractions
  • a designated business to clean biological crime scenes
  • resident fee similar to a utility tax
  • tax or fee on all alcohol sold in the city
  • tax or fee on all ammunition sold in the city
  • 9-1-1 fee per use

I'm very concerned about these ideas.  I've already run into one of them locally.  Last year, for the first time ever since I came to this country, I was given a ticket for speeding.  The officer concerned did not show me any proof of my speed, despite my denial that I was exceeding the limit, and told me brusquely that I could challenge it in court if I wished.  When I tried to do so, I was informed (rudely) that I would have to pay court costs even if I won - and those court costs would be higher than the cost of simply settling the matter, paying an administrative fine, and doing an online traffic school.  I spoke to a lawyer, who had quite a lot to say (none of it positive) about the fundamental unfairness and built-in injustice of the scheme.  Basically, one had no guarantee of winning in court, as it was an officer's word against a citizen's, and the court would favor the officer's word as a matter of course.  He suggested I take the simple, less costly way out, pay the administrative fine and do the online course.  Reluctantly, I eventually did - but I still resent the blatant injustice of the situation.

I regard the article's suggestions as a real threat to the impartiality and independence of law enforcement personnel.  It'll be a lot harder to know whether they're genuinely trying to prevent crime, or raising money for their department.  That's not a good place for law enforcement to be - and an even worse place for us, the citizens of this country, in our dealings with those who are supposed to serve and protect us and our society.



libertyman said...

That brings up forfeiture laws, and seizing of assets before any verdict is reached. As you suggest, the costs of fighting injustice sometimes is not practical.
It is outrageous that the police would even look at it this way.

Jim said...

I've seen it locally here as well. The police force in a nearby town has implemented strict enforcement of traffic laws. No warnings are given and the fines have been raised substantially. Offenses are often nitpicking. If you stop at a stop sign, you had best come to a complete halt, then sit there a couple seconds, or risk a $200 fine for a rolling stop. That happened to my wife. Stories like this are common. While revenue has increased, public support, once high, has eroded. A poor trade I believe.

tweell said...

Alas, it looks like having a car vidcam is becoming more and more important. Video evidence is hard to explain or argue with.

The other way to fight against this behavior is to inform others of its existence. Name and shame, Peter, name and shame. Otherwise you are going along with their robbery, enabling them to steal from others in the name of the law.

Val said...

Sadly, we have always known that the police have had quotas to meet for decades even though they have been publically denied. In the push to gain more revenue they are trying every way they can to gain back the lost funds through enforcement.

In the state where I live the "fees" are amazing and almost everything involves going to court. If you are stopped for a headlight being out, the fine is $150 which you can reduce if you fix it before court and have an officer sign off that it is fixed. That officer also expects to have you pay him "something" which is not a set amount. You still have to take a day off from work, appear in court and pay the fees to prove that you had it fixed.

The most common explanation for being pulled over is..... you looked suspicious. That can be for whatever reason the officer deems he needs to check you out and look for possible violations. In my home state, they have done away with having a visible registration sticker on the back plate in order to slide around the regulation on the books of only being able to run a plate number when there is a ticket or warning being written. It allows them to now run any plate they pull up behind whether you were doing something wrong or not.

Unless something is done to change the current thinking, I believe things will only get much worse.

C. S. P. Schofield said...

The tendency has always existed, but it landed on the poor for the most part. Starting with WWII, it receded for a while (I think the Battle of Athens had something to do with that) and we got used too that salutary state of affaires and consider it "normal". But the Progressive fondness for spreading the State's authority into every nook and cranny, combined with their chronic inability to kept o a budget, made it kind of inevitable that we would see this again.

So the police prey n the populace, and forfeit any hope they had of being viewed as protectors instead of announces. And the populace grows surly. And the police get insular and start arresting people for "contempt of cop". And then some incident like the shooting in Ferguson happens, and a large swath of the public have no inclination to believe that the cops could be justified, because their experience is that cops are arrogant, violent assholes.

And the authorities have the nerve, the unmitigated gall, to be surprised.

Furthermore, the Progressives LOVE THIS. The LIKE having a large portion of the population feeling oppressed, because they can exploit that. They won't do anything to STOP it, but they will exploit it. And the love the Police being socially isolated, because they know when push comes to shove they need the police to be loyal to THEM instead of the citizenry.

Anonymous said...

Vinton, LA once announced (or got caught saying) that 40% of the city's budget was covered by the fines reaped by its' single mile of I-10.

And the next city over from where I grew up had no property tax for years, because they knew to the second, how long it would take to drive on the Hwy from the border on on side of the city, to the border on the other side of the city. AAA deliberately routed drivers around the city to avoid its' "pay as you go" speed trap. It only stopped when the state stepped in and said that all traffic fines would go into the general fund.

-- Steve

Will said...

One of the main problems that we have to deal with is that most of the population has bought into the fantasy that the police are necessary to keep the roadways safe. The .govs own data tells a different story. Traffic stops are the most common interaction with the various police groups, and this causes a number of problems for both sides. It is always an adversarial encounter, and it causes all drivers to view the police as a threat, even if only subconsciously.

The use of radar is an absolute joke, as there is virtually NO WAY for the cop to know what moving object his radar locked on. Part of the problem is that cops don't even know how the system functions, and don't care. It requires near artificially perfect conditions to get accurate feedback with traffic radar. Check the car and motorcycle magazines for all the hassles involved in using them (and they buy the best models).

In NJ, the cities and towns may realize as much as 80% of their revenue from traffic fines. What astounds me is that this became public knowledge back in '05, when the State Police stopped writing tickets for a long time (5-6 months, IIRC). It hit the papers that the towns were going broke without their share of those tickets. Rather than address the issue, they just put the SP back to work.

The really stupid thing about it is that, once again it was shone that the presence of police on the roads causes the accident/injuries/fatalities rate to increase over the condition of no ticket writing. (the SP still went out on patrol, but would basically park somewhere and birdwatch or read a book) I happened to be there for that whole time period, so I saw it in person.

Captain Tightpants said...

I'm not going to take Peter's space to debate certain presumptions or flawed statements on her regarding police procedures, technologies and the like.

More importantly, as someone who agrees that the goal of enforcement (and there IS a place for it) should be increased safety & not the increase in the public coffers AND who is on the job - let me give you this to consider:

#1 - It's not the cops who decided this was the way to address things. It was citizens and politicians. The fact that traffic (and other minor offenses) are dealt with by fines comes from the fact that the majority of society agrees that jail time is far from an appropriate punishment for such things, but that some form of compliance with established norms and rules is important. Cops don't set the fines. Cops don't collect the fees. We work under the rules established by the legislature and judicial systems, and direction from the appropriate executive branch. So direct the attention where it belongs.

#2 - if you want this to change YOU have the power. Not us. We again work by the direction of the politicians, and the citizens. Don't want your locale to use money from traffic or other enforcement to go to finance local law enforcement? Then pressure your legislature, your media and the public to change the laws and regulations. Despite what some unfortunately believe, we work at your behest, and if you make enough noise then the rules get changed.

I'm not saying police are faultless in this system, and I certainly agree that many agencies and localities are abusing it as things stand. But fix it the right way and use the tools available for your own redress instead of venting at the men and women on the side of the road doing their jobs.