TeeJaw Blog

Local and State Governments Turning Cops Into Armed Tax Collectors

Posted in Government and Politics by TeeJaw on Tuesday, November 16, 2010, 9: 10 AM

Picture a young man or woman in the new-hire interview at a local police department.  The interviewer asks “Why do you want to become a police officer?”  Any recruit with a brain knows that the answer has to be some version of, “I want to help people.”  If the new recruit can spice it up with some tear jerker personal story that sounds original, it’s even better.  Of course, the real reason is more like, “I want to drive fast and shoot bad guys.”  Even though the interviewer might find that sort of honesty  refreshing it probably wouldn’t work.

Whatever one’s true motivation it’s doubtful any new recruit is drawn to a future of sitting on the side of the road running a speed trap.    There cannot be anyone left on the planet who doesn’t know that speed enforcement is about money and has nothing to do with traffic safety.  It’s not about helping people.  It’s about helping government cover up its irresponsible management of its budget.  In fact, it’s more than that.  Speed enforcement is big business.

Here is what the National Motorists Association says:

“No one knows how many traffic tickets are actually issued. Many local units of government deliberately hide this information so they don’t have to split their traffic ticket revenue with the state. Not including parking tickets, we can estimate that somewhere between 25 and 50 million traffic tickets are issued each year. Assuming an average ticket cost of $150.00, the total up front profit from tickets ranges from 3.75 to 7.5 billion dollars.

“If just half of these tickets result in insurance surcharges (typically at least $300 over a period of three years), you can add another 3.75 to 7.5 billion dollars in profit for insurance companies. This is why insurance companies “care” so much traffic “safety” programs and are willing to donate millions of dollars worth of radar and laser guns to the police. For them, it’s simple: more tickets equal more money!”

Now that politicians locally and nationally have spent the country into near bankruptcy, governments at every level are looking to maximize the take from traffic tickets.  The money grab is itself a colossal fraud on the public, but the intellectual and moral dishonesty that is necessarily entailed in this alliance among police departments, the courts, judges and insurance companies undermines respect for the law and those who are tasked to enforce it.  It means that when a new recruit tells a senior officer in an interview that he or she “wants to help people,” (and might actually mean it) they both know it’s a euphemism at best, and at worst an abominable lie.

Meanwhile, as the cops are on the streets raking in the dough for the government they work for, a man is severely beaten by thugs over the course of 30 minutes while a witness makes four calls to 911 before the police are dispatched. Here was a missed chance to actually help someone.

It doesn’t have to be like this.  This abomination can be stopped.  Here’s how:

  1. No court or police department should directly benefit from the collection of traffic fines.
  2. No police department should be permitted to rate its officers based on how many tickets they write.
  3. No local government should retain traffic fines. The money collected in local courts should be transferred to the state and returned via a local aid formula based on population.

Something on that order can be implemented as soon as the public demands it.  We get the government we are willing to tolerate.

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