See https://www.npr.org/2014/08/25/343143937/in-ferguson-court-f... for an explanation of how this helped ignite the racial tension that Ferguson had a few years ago.
> This edition of Crossing Continents goes out and about in St Louis County to meet the people who say they are victims of a system which sees arrest warrants issued for relatively minor misdemeanours. Many of the victims are poor and black. The programme also takes us into the courts, and out onto the freeways with some of the County's police, who say they are upholding the law and promoting road safety.
> The US government is not so sure. One of the towns in question is Ferguson where riots erupted after a white police officer shot a young black man dead last summer. In a recent report on the riots, the Department of Justice concluded that the Ferguson police had been stopping people for no good reason. It said they were putting revenue before public safety.
So what should the government do if someone doesn't pay their fine?
Just go through the process of taking the money instead, no different then a civil party who was owed a legitimate debt? There is no reason a fine should be any different. Just go through the standard process, get a court order for lien, and then just seize the money from any bank accounts, liquid assets, salary, or property of any value the person in question has (or ever will have in the future up to the statute of limitations). In fact the only real difference is that I don't think a fine is dischargeable in bankruptcy.
But why do you think there is any need to use force against the person in question, or pay to imprison them? It's not some moral issue, it's just a matter of them legitimately owing money. So just take the money (possibly allowing the working out of a payment plan). For the vast majority of cases that's all that's needed, and the few who truly live as hermits can be written off and suffer their own effective punishment anyway.
There's a big difference between someone not paying a fine because their flat-out broke and not paying it because "fuck the system, I'm above the law."
Zero-Tolerance and One-Size-Fits-All policies are destructively stupid and result in bad outcomes. Context matters in a system of jurisprudence, but ignoring it makes the lives of those implementing and managing them easier though, which is probably the point.
No. There should never be jail for debt. We have a lot of history seeing what debtors prison looks like and it's ugly, and also stupid because it's the government paying out a lot of money... to collect a bit of money? Usually paying out far more then the fine is anyway. Plus opportunity cost. Plus any value lost to society from whatever that person might have done outside of prison. Plus any extra cost that comes from them getting turned far worse while in prison. If someone has zero money, and will never in the future have any money, then sure blood can't be squeezed from stone and it's still better to write it off (or change the statute to require different recompense like service if it's deemed that important) than jail them. If they do have any money/property, or ever will collect any money/property down the road, that can be taken in due course.
Maybe there's a middle ground where fines are punishing for repeat offenders, but ordinary folks who show up in court get a few slaps on the wrist before fines kick in? Are some of the laws already structured like this?
16 is notorious for speed traps and other shadier stuff. Including road blocks on exit ramps with drug dogs waiting to sniff cars. They bait people into getting off at the exits by leaving fake signs about upcoming road blocks. When College kids were moving or getting out of school they’d be out in full force.
Sadly my Dad grew up in one of these towns. The fines were the only way to keep parts of the town alive.
- Town is poor and economically desolate.
- Town gets money from being legally petty to try to stay afloat.
- Everyone who gets fines hates Town; wants to avoid it.
- Town is poor and economically desolate.
My father was able to move because he got into Georgia Tech.
Which parts? The police force?
Seems to me that if your city doesn't bring in enough tax revenue to support a police force then you'd opt to have a volunteer police force.
What's the situation with fire departments in these towns?
Admittedly, I have some friends with a story about Georgia highway patrol / local PD setting up a roadblock off an interstate exit right by a Phish concert.
Metter was/is a speed trap but I’ve only been through once in the past 5 years. Here’s a list from the AJC. I can vouch for Doraville being a trap.
Metter was and remains the family pitstop, and has never been trouble and I can't recall seeing any in the 10+ years that I can remember driving. Of course that's really only in the I-16 interchange area as opposed to transiting the town itself, perhaps further into the depths of Metter awaits a townie with a quota.
I wonder if police hotspots are a sort-of hipster problem, by the time you hear of them they've since moved on to greener pastures.
A local government is an economic entity too. It takes in income from some set of people and distributes services in return. Taxes mean getting income from the residents, which in turn means those residents need to be acquiring money from outside of the area to compensate for that. When jobs are dying, that money stops coming in. Traffic fines let a small town extract money directly from people outside of the city, which means it places no burden on the citizens receiving the services.
I'm not saying this is morally justified, but that's how the system works economically.
These small towns are in a really rough spot. Many services are not fully elastic and can't arbitrarily scale down. It's not like you can say "the fire department only puts out fires between 3 and 6 PM." A sewer line that only goes halfway to a house is not 50% useful. Below a certain level of wealth and density, a city simply can't sustain the services it needs to provide to its citizens. Their options are:
1. Take in money from larger government organizations. State and federal funding can keep these cities alive. This is how, for example, they're able to still provide mail service, because it's the US Postal Service. With this, basically the larger metro areas are supporting these small towns out of duty to the greater good.
2. Extract money from people living outside of the area directly. That's what this article is about.
3. Disincorporate entirely. This does happen sometimes, but obviously this has a lot of downsides. Actual humans do live in these places, and these cities have long histories. Times change and some things do naturally go away, but there is a material loss when it happens.
Sheriff is a political job and even more so in small towns. It’s just as much of a mayor type job as it is a policing one.
Their entire school system had less students than my high school in metro Atlanta.
As said, I can't imagine a moral justification for not implementing some similar scheme.
The effect of a file is strongly dependent on your income, so if fines are to have any deterrent effect, it must also be dependent on your income.
Compensating someone for damages, be it for the victim's health or possessions, is then supposed to follow the real inflicted costs and does not include a deterring component, thus monetarily equal regardless of the perpetrator's income. I'd suppose this is the same almost everywhere?
Edit: so to clarify, compensation paid to the victim isn't based on your income, only the fines part that is paid to the state as a deterrent is.
And there are multiple jurisdictions. Imagine Arizona giving a California resident a $50000 speeding ticket. Or L.A. (city) levying income based parking tickets on Beverly Hills and Orange County residents (neighboring communities with ultra wealthy people).
Example: speeding tickets in Switzerland. A guy driving his Lamborghini through a village at 60mph had a ticket for several hundred thousand dollars handed to him while I was living there.
There are also jurisdictions which charge filing and handling fees on bail, which you never get back, which can be up to 10%. For 10k bond, which is pretty normal many places, that means 1000, just gone, not even accounting for the bond.
Otherwise, wealthy people can flout fine-based laws with virtual impunity, while poor can't. That doesn't seem fair, that seems like justice for the poor, lawlessness for the rich.
Exactly! The _intent_ of the action is one of the most important aspects. If a group is disproportionately being penalized (the poor in this case) then the action (the fine) isn't actually fulfilling its intent (to prevent all who receive the fine from breaking the law).
This is why "points" where introduced in numerous states to create a demerit point system. Even if a driver can afford 1,000 speeding tickets in a year they will lose their license after receiving a specific amount of demerit points.
"Fine the rich because they're globalist pedophiles" is also an argument of sorts but not to the standard I'm talking about.
If those places are dying out, it's probably best to let them turn into ghost towns because they have succumbed to corruption as a way of life.
If it is just what funds the government, that isn't a kleptocracy. Bad policy maybe, but not kleptocracy.
That's not what kleptocracy means.
>is going primarily to pay that union,
I don't think that is accurate.
> Georgia, for example, levies about a dozen fees, and they’re used to pay for a state police motorcycle unit, a brain and spinal injury trust fund, and a police supplemental retirement fund.
And the other cases where the money for fines paid in cash just disappeared:
> A Louisiana state audit last year found that some cash payments for citations in Fenton were never deposited in the village’s bank account and alleged improper compensation to city officials.
These are just the direct ways in which revenue from fines are funneled into the pocketbooks of those writing the citations. It doesn't even look into the more tradition mechanics of kleptocrats, where government funds are directly funneled to businesses owned by politicians.
The article does a good job describing the tax policies that influence heavy reliance on fines and etc, that's not kleptocracy, that's just bad policy with bad results.
In the majority of these jurisdictions, the local government is not actually doing useful work towards a flourishing community, or perhaps to be fair, they aren't doing any useful work that couldn't be done more fairly and effectively at the state level.
Or equally fairly and effectively without having it officially orchestrated by the government.
Doesn't that apply to all government where someone is paid?
Arguably that idea is what lead to the current situation in some cases....
As the article notes state legislatures cut local government funding, they limit how they can gather funds, probabbly under the idea that they're returning revenue to the people ... so the local government gathers funds the only way they can find it. And here we are.
Because the local government is a bureaucracy, and the first motivation of a bureaucracy is the same as with any organism, self-preservation.
Rather than elections for sheriff and alderman, etc. there should be referenda every couple of years to dissolve the jurisdiction.
Perhaps the locals don't want to?
Fancy word, there, son. 'round here we call it Dixie.
I don't think it's a coincidence that their cruisers are all brand new. It's obviously a source of income more than anything.
It is interesting to see some towns that are famous in my local area for it:
Morrison, CO (45.3%). 150,000 drivers pass through it daily, with a population of 431. It's hard to argue with as they stop people if they're going 15 MPH over the limit.  I think people here just get used to the lack of enforcement of the other cities.
Mountain View, CO is only 0.09 sq mi (0.24 km2), population ~528. Sandwiched between Denver and the next suburb over, writes more tickets combined than Denver, Boulder, and Aurora. A lot of the tickets are for things like seatbelts and cracked windshields .
Quote: "They got me going 41 in a 25. $135 ticket. They are making a killing by gouging people for no reason so beware!" LOL
Weird that Mountain View is in the mix. Maybe it's just a statistical anomaly because the "town" is tiny and is actually in a metro area and may include a portion I-70.
Morrison looks like a gerrymander: it runs along roads, and has some other parts that are unused pieces of land, and doesn't include private property that is being used even though it is next to it. It really does look like it was designed to cover roads that have nothing to do with the actual downtown part of Morrison.
Mountain View is between W 41st Ave and W 44th Ave (which looks like a fairly busy road). I just noticed they are only at 5.3% in the report though.  That's not even 10% (and a lot more than Morrison's 45%.)
Since you mentioned I-70, on the other hand there is Lakeside: Mountain View actually borders another tiny "town" (population 8), Lakeside, which consists of a lake, shopping center, and amusement park, and I-70 and related on/off-ramps. According to the map in the report , Lakeside is on the map but at 13.5% revenue from tickets.
Lyons CO, a town along the highway from Denver to Rocky Mountain National Park has a section where the speed limit drops from 55 to 25 within about 1/4th mile. Cops sit there all day long just fining tourists.
Kingman AZ is essentially a speed trap with more steps.
Just about any village on I-50 in Nevada does the speed step down too, typically from 75 to 35, as the highway goes through the village. The cops are typically not very well hidden either. As is similar to the Rome OH situation, if you are within sight, you are getting a fine. Top Gear ran into this issue in Season 12, episode 2  and Clarkson was quite irrate on screen. Fortunately, I-80 is a much better and faster way across Nevada.
Doesn't that mean 2 officers on duty at any one time? There is ~160 hours in a week, so that is 4 40 hour blocks. Having two police active at any time seems reasonable (probably with them staggered so that when one swaps the other is only half way through their shift).
I think this speaks to the larger issue, a structural problem about how revenues are gathered.
State legislators restrict or eliminate funding and cut off any other sources of funding, so they gather funds the only way they can providing a perverse incentive.
There's way too much focus on "cut taxes wherever" without much thought as to good governance and the results of such cuts.
Believe it or not small towns do offer some services, it might not be much compared to others, but little is still something that needs to be funded.
I can understand a bit of the rural vs urban issues in the US when I see a lot of arguments here that because they offer very little (perhaps just compared to an outsider's point of view) ... that means they shouldn't have any?
Meanwhile as the article notes state legislatures cut off funding from the state / limit their ability to gather funds by other means.
Previously the limit was 30% and before that it was 35%. That higher limit was imposed to deal with Macks Creek, MO, a village on a US highway in a valley between two steep hills. That village was coated in brake dust, until the legislature decided it doesn't really need police. I'm pleased at the progress we're making in this state.
As it stands it only encourages abuse.
It is expensive to operate a bureaucracy or a public school district.
Within this template, a fortunate jurisdiction can collect fines and fees from out-of-towners without significantly making locals' lives miserable. An unfortunate jurisdiction harasses locals too. This is not unlike how corporations take advantage of laws, but with the added abuse potential of being able to make up laws too.
The state stepping in and forcing a disincorporation of the local jurisdiction isn't necessarily a good answer. It stops the immediate symptom of near-abuse or actual abuse of power but doesn't provide a framework to substitute economic activity. Far better is limiting the level to which local governments have control over decisions of policing, but such measures are unpopular. The status quo largely continues, with investigations opened into a few high-profile cases of abuse of power, and the rest can keep doing what they do for now.
> Impeding traffic is a civil infraction punishable by a fine. It is also considered a non-moving violation that does not add any points to the offender's Michigan driving record. Non-moving violations are not reported to the Michigan Secretary of State and are less likely to be detected by automobile insurance companies as a basis to raise rates. Municipal attorneys will frequently offer to reduce speeding tickets to an impeding traffic charge which avoids points on the driver's record but usually results in a bigger fine.
It's a pure money making scheme.
I saw my town make over $1,200 within a split second the other night.
I was stopped waiting at a red light, as cars were passing in front of me.
The light turned yellow, then red, then not even what seemed like a nanosecond after it might have turned red... 3 cars entered the intersection and the light flashed 3 times.
$400, $800, $1,200... all within less than a second, for an infraction so minor that even a police cruiser sitting in my exact same position would have probably sloughed off as being "close enough".
Not to mention, these cameras probably cost orders of magnitude less than a human police officer and a dedicated cruiser.
All I am getting at is, from a business standpoint, it's obvious why these are so popular with poor municipalities.
Once again, the rich get richer, and the poor get kicked on their way home from their 3rd job with a $400 fine for being a nanosecond later than an ambiguously timed light decided they should have been.
This is not going to change unless federal legislation forces it to.
Nobody wants to accept that maybe a town of 5-20k people don't need 20-100 man police forces, and a far lower level of public services in general.
Nobody wants to admit they have to lower their standards of living in the face of adversity; instead we double-down on reproducing (or improving on) the standard of living of our forebears and thereby immiserate ourselves with the debts (or oppression in this case) needed to square that circle.
Even the most economically irrelevant areas of rural america have paved roads these days when they could simply have stuck with gravel, etc. In many ways we are trying to exceed the prior standard of living (progress!) all the while forgetting that the economic base of most of these places has either not improved or significantly worsened.
We all increase our standards of living at our own peril; one must save and capitalize first (which is actively punished by low interest rate policy). Taking this as a given, should we have expected any other outcome?
Of course, even WITH the economic incentive a lot of these things get little to no attention/enforcement, so without it will be even less. Sigh. At least ridiculously random road rules would go away?
Lets just use the death penalty for everything. Less money involved then.
Oh damn, the people making injection drugs will lobby too... I just can't win.
Alternatively, if you really want to punish minor things, fines could be dependent on your income.
Insufficient local tax base for small towns is a problem throughout the world, with many diverse solutions. This is the evolved and ad hoc US flavored version in the absence of a top-down official solution.
Obviously that might encourage those governments too do such fines, but a. they already do that, and b. people have historically been better at limiting large scale abuse like this that is possible in each separate small town scattered around the state/country.
Also it might provide a more cost effective way to sue in response to disparate enforcement (one suit vs many).
( Akroid's 1991 film 'Nothing But Trouble' sums up my feelings.)
But you know, I'm not an accountant
* On US Military Bases
* Near small towns
Yup, there it is. 96.2% of general funds from fines. $24,126 per adult resident. That's what happens when you have a tiny town with a small segment of an Interstate.
Traffic fines just de-select those who don't travel by motor vehicle. And, to some degree, the fees are self-selected. (You choose to speed or not.)
The use of bureaucracy to funnel wealth from poor to rich also operates in the same way for private institutions such as banks. Graeber goes into this modern tendency towards bureaucratic rule in detail in his book "Utopia of Rules"