Listeners sounded the alarm on May 18, 2020 in Bonita, Louisiana, near the Arkansas border.
A statewide stay at home order prevented cars from circulating, limiting the possibilities for the police to issue tickets. The budgetary implications were severe in Bonita, which derives more than half of its income from citations.
“The village depends on fines and forfeitures for its income, and with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and less traffic in the area, this could potentially make it more difficult for the village to have the necessary funds available. to continue providing all current services,” the listeners wrote in their financial report.
Essentially, listeners say the quiet part out loud, suggesting that law enforcement in the village is intended to generate revenue rather than protect the public.
The prediction of a budget crisis has come true in many places, including Bonita, which saw a temporary drop in citation revenue in 2020. But some Louisiana cities and towns actually set records for fines and fees during the pandemic.
Georgetown, a Grant Parish village on U.S. Route 165, hit an all-time high for citation revenue in 2020 and broke its record again the following year. The 2021 haul approached $650,000.
That number is staggering, considering Georgetown’s population is just 446. It nearly matched Baton Rouge and surpassed Alexandria, Bossier City, Lake Charles, and Monroe. Quotation revenue made up 93% of the village budget, or $1,452 per capita. For perspective, the national average for quote revenue is 2% of a municipal budget and $10 per capita.
The pattern is similar to Woodworth, a town in Rapides Parish on U.S. Route 165, which set a citation revenue record in 2020 and went even higher in 2021. Baskin, Dodson, Gilbert, McNary, Tickfaw and Tullos have also set quotes earnings records during the pandemic. .
The Institute for Justice, the public interest law firm where I work, has sued municipalities in Alabama, Georgia, Missouri and elsewhere for code enforcement motivated by money, not public safety. . Curious about the situation in Louisiana, I toured the state in the summer of 2021.
An aggressive application was easy to spot. I saw an officer parked at the bottom of a freeway overpass in Georgetown, catching southbound cars as they came over the ridge. A Forest Hill officer waited in the grass of a private driveway, using a bend in the treeline for cover. And a Fenton officer was nestled in a group of trees opposite a roadside cemetery. Local residents said police maintained a 24-hour watch at the location.
Governments have legitimate reasons to enforce traffic laws, but they must be driven by justice, not revenue. As the US Department of Justice writes in support of a lawsuit by the Institute for Justice in Brookside, Alabama: “The Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment prohibits courts, prosecutors, and police from decide cases or apply laws when their decision-making may be distorted. by substantial personal or institutional financial interests.
In addition to fostering a predatory relationship between police and the public, the focus on revenue is dangerous. Shannon Brown, Fenton Police Officer deceased in 2016 when a car collided with his police car during a traffic stop.
The pressure to maintain the solvency of municipal services is also hurting the morale of law enforcement. Two officers eventually resigned and denounced an informal quota system at Gretna that punished officers who did not generate enough income.
Gretna denied having a quota system, but the city also paid $70,000 settlement in 2019 to prevent a trial. The agreement ensured that no discovery or testimony under oath would occur.
Regardless of whether quotas exist or not, law enforcement can always be flawed. Case law shows that temptations to abuse power arise when government decisions influence the financial well-being of entire systems, not just personal bank accounts.
The Department of Justice makes this clear in his recent statement. Courts, prosecutors and police “operate in impermissible conflicts when there is “a realistic possibility that [their] judgment will be skewed by the prospect of institutional gain as a result of zealous enforcement efforts,” the statement said, citing a 1980 report United States Supreme Court case.
Simply put, places like Bonita just can’t afford to drop the gas. After hitting a six-year low for fines and forfeiture revenue in 2020, the village rebounded in 2021 with its second-highest catch on record.
Even a global pandemic cannot keep citation levels low for long when towns and cities view every car as a potential ATM.
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