NMA Reboot: When Did “To Protect and Serve” become “To Ticket and Arrest?”

This weekly post features recent news stories that highlight and update themes previously covered throughout NMA E-Newsletters and Alerts.

Editor’s Note: Last week the ACLU of Georgia settled a case with DeKalb County involving a man who was jailed for not paying traffic fines. The man, Kevin Thompson, spent five days in jail for not paying $838 in court fines and probation fees stemming from an unpaid traffic ticket. The case illustrates just how merciless the traffic justice system can be, especially to those of limited means. The irony is that the system, through such heavy-handed tactics, makes payment all but impossible for those already experiencing financial hardships. Can anyone say Ferguson? As highlighted in this 2012 newsletter, the NMA has long exposed the human toll incurred when government pursues revenue at the expense of fairness and decency.


NMA E-Newsletter #177: Policing for Profit

It’s common knowledge (verified by academic studies) that traffic enforcement becomes more heavy-handed in tough economic times. Policymakers looking for creative ways to fill ever widening budget gaps often find motorists easy targets.

But if the recession really did end in 2009 as economists tell us, you’d never know it from the latest headlines. Here’s just a sampling of stories from the last few weeks, demonstrating how officials continue to use motorists as cash machines.

The city of Prichard, Alabama, (population 27,576) recently hired private firm iTraffic to assess the potential for expanded traffic enforcement. The company concluded that Prichard could be generating 3,000 tickets per month, a 30-fold increase over current levels. In exchange for $175,000 in new speed enforcement equipment (computers, laser units, etc.) provided by iTraffic, Prichard agreed to share half of its ticket revenue with the company. Even so, Prichard stands to grow its monthly ticket take by nearly $50,000.

Hopewell, Virginia, came under scrutiny after it was discovered the town had generated $2-million worth of traffic tickets last year. With a population of around 23,000, Hopewell issued about half as many tickets as Virginia’s largest county, Fairfax County, which has more than one million residents. Hopewell Sheriff Greg Anderson is now under consideration for his own reality television show.

And speaking of Fairfax County, an auditor’s report recently informed the county board that meter maids have been slacking off. According to the report, parking ticket revenues have dropped from $3.3 million in 2006 to $3.1 million in 2011. To fix this dire situation, the report recommended recruiting a volunteer force to write additional parking tickets as well as the implementation of formal “performance measures” for parking personnel. Can anyone say quota system?

As part of its 2013 budget, The Washington D.C. Council approved a massive expansion of its already ubiquitous speed camera network. The move is expected to generate $30 million in revenues helping to fill a $172 million budget gap. Mayor Vincent Gray has said the additional cameras are solely to increase safety. Also new for 2013, the budget calls for withholding tax refunds from district residents with unpaid traffic fines.

Not to be outdone, Michigan recently implemented a law that reduces from six to three the number of unpaid parking tickets that a city needs before it can petition a court to prevent renewal of a Michigan driver’s license. Motorists must then pay $45 to reinstate their licenses. This law not only uses license suspension as punishment for behavior unrelated to driving, it adds to the financial hardship already faced by many motorists with less-than-perfect driving records.

Finally, on a more human scale, but no less emblematic, is this example from New Jersey. Frank Roders had to bolt from his car to save his five-year-old son from falling off a ledge into a river. In the rush, he neglected to set the emergency brake, and his Jeep rolled off the embankment. Thankfully, his quick actions saved his son. But police on the scene didn’t share his joy and cited him for failure to set his parking brake and for failure to produce proof of insurance, which was in the waterlogged vehicle.

Some of these schemes are big and some are small. Some get lots of attention and others fly under the radar (so to speak), but they all have one thing in common—they are conscious efforts to make motorists pay for the financial follies of government, no matter the human cost.

A Georgia member aptly summed it up like this: “I thought the police department’s motto was To Protect and Serve not To Ticket and Arrest.


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