America’s Hidden Secret: State And City Budgets Rely On Ticket & Court Revenue

(MassPrivateI) When elected officials say, ‘We need more money,’ they can’t look to the department of public works to raise revenues, so where do they find it? Police departments James Tignanelli, president of the Police Officers Association of Michigan union said.

Police Chief Michael Reaves of Utica, Michigan, says the role of law enforcement has changed over the years. “When I first started in this job 30 years ago, police work was never about revenue enhancement, but if you’re a chief now, you have to look at whether your department produces revenues,” he says. “That’s just the reality nowadays.”

Police in some cities are being forced to make false arrests to generate revenue.

According to one lawsuit each officer said they were required to write one traffic ticket per working day. They also had to make two criminal arrests per month, write four ordinance violation tickets per month, and make one DUI arrest every other month. Click here to read more.

Some police officers, such as Sgt. Richard Lyons of Trenton, Michigan, say they don’t like being pressured to write more tickets.

“That’s not what I got into law enforcement for—to hand out chintzy tickets,” says Lyons, a 21-year veteran. “Things have changed from when I first started in this job. There was a time when you’d come in, do your job, and go home.

“It’s a whole different ball game now,” Lyons says. “They’re trying to use police officers to balance the budget on the backs of drivers, and it’s too bad. The people we count on to support us and help us when we’re on the road are the ones who end up paying the bills, and they’re ticked off about it. We might as well just go door to door and tell people, ‘Slide us $100 now since your 16-year-old is going to end up paying us anyway when he starts driving.’ You can’t blame people for getting upset.”

Police departments across the country have been charged with quotas. Click here, here and here to read but a few examples. And if police officers speak out and reveal ticket quotas to the public, they get fired, no one is exempt from getting fired not even state troopers.

Another officer was told by his Chief he had to “increase his numbers.” The suit says that in 2005, Crawford, who was then a sergeant but now is chief, advised Robert Wysokowski to seek out and target younger drivers for motor vehicle stops.”

“Then-Sgt. Crawford advised plaintiff to pull over any car with a group of younger drivers/passengers who appeared to be in their late teens or early twenties. Crawford went so far as to suggest to plaintiff that he should look for vehicles with a Morris County College parking permit or other identifier and to stop that vehicle,” the lawsuit charged.

Wysokowski claims that he repeatedly stated that such profiling was against laws regarding probable cause to stop vehicles but was advised “to keep his mouth shut.”

State troopers across the country have ticket quotas, Click here to read more.

Ticket quotas are quote ‘illegal’ but they’re here to stay despite claims states are going to stop using them. Click here to read more.

Nevada courts are out of cash because police are not writing enough speeding tickets. State Supreme Court Chief Justice James W. Hardesty sounded the warning before the state Joint Subcommittee on General Government telling lawmakers that the coffers are running dry at an alarming rate.

“We thought the decline would be about three or so percent,” Justice Hardesty explained. “We budgeted for a five percent decline in the budget that the governor recommended. We now believe based on the numbers we’re seeing that the decline will actually be ten percent. This is a serious problem, not only for the Supreme Court’s budget, but also for those budgets in the state general fund that are supported by administrative assessments.”

In 2010, 615,267 traffic and parking tickets were issued statewide. This dropped to just 484,913 last year. The 21 percent reduction in revenue is hitting the courts hard.

“We probably will be close to 400,000 in 2015,” Justice Hardesty told committee members. “I mean this is the concern that all of us together, senator, need to address…. With all due respect to the citizens of Nevada, I don’t think anyone is driving better. I think the truth is, we’re seeing less traffic violations because law enforcement’s priorities have changed dramatically.”

The judicial branch spends $51 million each year to operate, with all but $20 million coming from the state general fund. Roughly the same amount, $21 million, pays the salaries of the state’s justices and judges. The chief justice believes paying judges out of traffic fines is the wrong way to fund the courts.

“The Supreme Court is the one who’s encouraging people to violate the law so we have enough money to operate,” Justice Hardesty observed. “That seems like an oxymoron. I would urge the legislature to give serious consideration to changing the manner by which the Supreme Court is funded.”

The chief justice told lawmakers that it was their constitutional duty to fund the courts and that the $1.4 million budgetary shortfall should be paid from the general fund, instead of encouraging more ticket-writing statewide.

“If this issue is not addressed before May 1, the court will not have sufficient cash to operate,” Justice Hardesty warned. “Do you want me to close the judicial branch of government at the state level on May 1? …If we don’t fix this problem, the Supreme Court will be broke in the next biennium.”

Missouri’s city budgets rely on tickets and court revenue.

The 100 or so people — every one of them black — who had to report to a Normandy, Mo. court  probably wish there was more interest. Even in St. Louis County — where Ferguson and many of the other small cities use their police departments and municipal courts to raise revenue — Normandy sticks out. The city brings in a shocking 40 percent of its general revenue from fines and fees — one of the highest percentages in St. Louis County.

Normandy Mayor Patrick Green recently claimed the municipal court system actually loses money — if you include expenses for the entire police department. Green said he considers an effort by the Missouri state legislature to limit traffic ticket revenue an attack on Normandy and its officers.

“It’s an insult to this community and its police force,” Green said. “Our police aren’t out there ‘producing revenue.’ They are out there fighting crime.”

Ferguson, MO relies heavily on ticketing the public to balance budgets and pay police & the courts.
Ferguson’s budget relies heavily on public safety and court fines that have skyrocketed in recent years. A review of Ferguson’s financial statements indicates that court fine collections now account for one-fifth of total operating revenue. The St. Louis suburb of about 21,000 residents took in more than $2.5 million in municipal court revenue last fiscal year, representing an 80 percent increase from only two years prior, when fines netted about $1.4 million.

Policing is no longer about public safety it’s about revenue generation, see some recent examples below:

In the metropolitan Detroit area, the number of moving violations issued has increased by at least 50 percent in 18 communities in the metro area since 2002—and 11 of those municipalities have seen ticketing increases of 90 percent or more. During that time, Michigan has cut revenue sharing to communities by $3 billion. Officials are scrambling to balance their budgets amid the tumbling economy, and some people say the authorities are turning to traffic cops for help.

“A lot of police chiefs will tell you the goal is to have nobody speeding through their community, but heaven forbid if it should actually happen—they’d be out of money,” Tignanelli says.

Funding for Michigan prosecutors and police training is in jeopardy, less cops means less revenue collection

Fewer police means less tickets, and that’s cutting into the budget for the Michigan Commission on Law Enforcement Standards, which issues grants for continuing education for cops, prosecutors and defense lawyers.

In 1982 as part of the Michigan Justice Training Fund, a $5 surcharge on traffic tickets was imposed to raise money to train officers.

“We were getting $5 million annually from traffic ticket surcharges,” he said. “That has dropped said David Harvey, the training commission’s executive director.

Larry Burdick, executive director of the Prosecuting Attorneys Coordinating Council said the commission’s training funds have been shrinking for about a decade.

“We once received about $300,000 a year,” Burdick said. “In 2015, that dropped to $166,000 and now, we have been told, no grants next year.”

Burdick, who was a prosecutor in Mount Pleasant for 24 years, said the money helps pay for 22 training programs for assistant prosecuting attorneys and hundreds on their staffs.

In Virginia towns are using license plate readers to collect local taxes

John Oliver on how cities screw the poor with traffic tickets and other minor violations:

10. Many cities hire sleazy private companies to collect on tickets, fees and surcharges. In 2009 Judicial Correction Services (JDC) — a private company — ran an ad that bragged, “Last year we sent over 14 million to Alabama Municipal Courts in fine collections. The cost to the cities was zero. That’s right, not a dime!”

9. Some states issue traffic tickets, then pile on fees and surcharges: Some states start with what seems like a reasonable fine, but tack on surcharges and fees. In California, the fine for running a stop sign is $35. But after fees, the actual amount jumps to $238.00.

8. Some cities charge outrageous fine from the get go. In DeKalb, Ala, a speeding ticket for less than 25 miles per hour over the speeding limit is $255.00. If you earn minimum wage there, at $7.25 per hour, you’d have to work 35 hours — nearly a whole week — to pay off that fine.

7. Payment plans make it even harder to pay off traffic tickets. Some states allow payment plans, but that makes paying off tickets more expensive. In Illinois, people who fall behind on payments get hit with a 30 percent fee. New Orleans charges $100 to start a payment plan.

6. 44 states charge fees to people on probation. That’s right. 44 states in the U.S. engage in the unconscionable practice of charging people various fees for the privilege of being on probation.

5. Ferguson police are encouraged to issue traffic tickets. In Ferguson, officers competed to see who could raise the most money in tickets, and promotions depend on how much cash you could gin up. A police commander bragged about people waiting on line for hours to pay their tickets. “The court clerk girls have been swamped.” The city manager said “great work.”

4. A Ferguson woman paid over $1000 in fees for $152.00 in parking tickets. Eric Holder told C-Span “In 2007, one woman received two parking tickets that together totaled $152.00. To date, she has paid $550 in fines and fees to the City of Ferguson. Yet, today, she still inexplicably owes Ferguson $541.00.” That’s right. More than $1000 for $152 in parking tickets.

3. Traffic ticket abuse doesn’t just happen in Ferguson. A study of cities and towns around Ferguson found that at least eight of them rely on traffic tickets, court fines and fees for over 30 percent of their revenue. That’s right. Over 30 percent! One town, Calverton Park, raises over 66 percent of its revenues through municipal violations.

2. When people can’t pay traffic tickets, they lose their licenses. In many states, failing to pay a traffic ticket can get your driver’s license suspended. In 2012, 88 percent of license suspensions in the State of Florida were because of “failure to comply with summons or fines.”

1. When people lose their drivers licenses, they often lose their jobs. In New Jersey, 64 percent of low-income residents who lost their licenses found themselves unable to keep their jobs.

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