A big reason why speed trap towns are able to stay in business for years is that they generally leave the locals alone. After all, if the tickets are going to out-of-towners, there’s no reason for the local citizens to be upset.
In that scenario, the town and its citizens benefit from the extra money generated by the tickets. Meanwhile, the out-of-towners who get the unfair tickets are unable to vote the city’s leaders out of office and unlikely to complain — due to the hassle of driving back to the small town to fight a ticket.
The police department in Jericho, Arkansas decided to ignore this reality and treated even the locals with disdain. Now, thanks to their greed, the speed trap has been exposed in the national media.
In case you missed it over the holiday weekend, here’s an excerpt from the Associated Press story on MSNBC:
It was just too much, having to return to court twice on the same day to contest yet another traffic ticket, and Fire Chief Don Payne didn’t hesitate to tell the judge what he thought of the police and their speed traps.
The response from cops? They shot him. Right there in court.
Payne ended up in the hospital, but his shooting last week brought to a boil simmering tensions between residents of this tiny former cotton city and their police force. […]
It was anger over traffic tickets that brought Payne to city hall last week, said his lawyer, Randy Fishman. After failing to get a traffic ticket dismissed on Aug. 27, police gave Payne or his son another ticket that day. Payne, 39, returned to court to vent his anger to Judge Tonya Alexander, Fishman said.
It’s unclear exactly what happened next, but Martin said an argument between Payne and the seven police officers who attended the hearing apparently escalated to a scuffle, ending when an officer shot Payne from behind.
This lead to a refreshingly honest and direct quote from a local sheriff’s office:
“You can’t even get them to answer a call because normally they’re writing tickets,” said Thomas Martin, chief investigator for the Crittenden County Sheriff’s Office. “They’re not providing a service to the citizens.”
The article also gives a bit of history on how the town became a speed trap:
Sheriff’s deputies patrolled Jericho until the 1990s, when the city received grant money to start its own police force, Martin said.
Police often camped out in the department’s two cruisers along the highway that runs through town, waiting for drivers who failed to slow down when they reached the 45 mph zone ringing Jericho. Residents say the ticketing got out of hand.
“When I first moved out here, they wrote me a ticket for going 58 mph in my driveway,” 75-year-old retiree Albert Beebe said.
The frequent ticketing apparently led to the vandalization of the cruisers, and the department took to parking the cars overnight at the sheriff’s office eight miles away.
The police force has been temporarily disbanded while the town is in the news, but there are signs that there may be more corruption beyond setting up a blatant speed trap:
Meanwhile, sheriff’s deputies want to know where the money from the traffic fines went.
Martin said that it appeared the $150 tickets weren’t enough to protect the city’s finances. Sheriff’s deputies once had to repossess one of the town’s police cruisers for failure to pay on a lease, and the state Forestry Commission recently repossessed one of the city’s fire trucks because of nonpayment.
City hall has been shuttered since the shooting, and any records of how the money was spent are apparently locked inside. No one answered when a reporter knocked on the door on Tuesday.