Friendlier Policing? Eliminate the Revenue Incentive

Several obvious first points:
  • Mayberry is a fictional place!
  • Andy Taylor is a fictional Sheriff!
  • We must not be naive about the nature of man (we are all sinners!)
  • Nor should we be Pollyannaish about crime in the United States
  • Policing is a difficult and dangerous job.
  • Additionally we must have respect for authorities. Romans 13 is clear: "They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer"
This also needs to be said that the nature of this post is not anti-cop! I have had cop-friends, and I had a cousin who was a cop! I've been helped by cops and I appreciate them.

While admitting that feelings may be notoriously incorrect, I have a sense that policing today is quite a bit different than policing a generation ago! My sense is that policing has lost the concept of proportional punishment. An anecdote: Year's past, I've been stopped and reminded by a policeman that a tail light was out. Today that former friendly reminder (or worse a warning ticket) is now a full stop! While not all the facts are in, this was apparently the case with Philando Castile who was stopped for a broken tail light (this article disputes this). The Alton Sterling situation was about CDs being sold in a parking lot (again with the caveat that all the facts aren't in!). The Eric Garner case was about the sale of untaxed cigarettes.

In 2011, I was arrested (read about by clicking the link). I'm biased but frankly I think that the policing was out of proportion (read and judge for yourself!).

As someone with a degree in economics, I often think through that lens. And with regard to policing, some have written about this:
  1. Ferguson shows how a police force can turn into a plundering ‘collection agency’
  2. Policing and Profit
  3. Police Chief Magazine: Generating New Revenue Streams
  4. Police Departments are Over-funded: It’s All About Priorities
Several quotes:
Of all the harrowing stories buried inside the Justice Department’s report on the Ferguson Police Department, one of the most illustrative begins with an illegally parked car. The year was 2007. And a Ferguson officer who noticed the illegally parked vehicle issued its driver, an African American woman, two citations and a ticket for $151. To the driver, who had bounced in and out of homelessness, the fine was draconian. She couldn’t pay it in full. So over the next seven years, the woman missed several deadlines and court dates. That tacked on more fees, more payment deadlines, more charges. She ultimately spent six days in jail. All because she didn’t park her car correctly. As of December 2014, the woman had paid the city of Ferguson $550 resulting from a $151 ticket. And she still owes $541. [article 1]

In Ferguson, residents who fall behind on fines and don’t appear in court after a warrant is issued for their arrest (or arrive in court after the courtroom doors close, which often happens just five minutes after the session is set to start for the day) are charged an additional $120 to $130 fine, along with a $50 fee for a new arrest warrant and 56 cents for each mile that police drive to serve it. Once arrested, everyone who can’t pay their fines or post bail (which is usually set to equal the amount of their total debt) is imprisoned until the next court session (which happens three days a month). Anyone who is imprisoned is charged $30 to $60 a night by the jail. If an arrestee owes fines in more than one of St. Louis County’s eighty-one municipal courts, they are passed from one jail to another to await hearings in each town. The number of these arrests in Ferguson is staggering: in 2013, Ferguson’s population was around 21,000 and its municipal court issued 32,975 arrest warrants for nonviolent offenses. Ferguson has a per capita income of $20,472, and nearly a quarter of residents and over a third of children live below the poverty line. Court fines and fees are Ferguson’s second-largest source of income, generating over $2.4 million in revenue in 2013. [article 2]

[Article 3: Expresses the budgetary pressures of one police department - West Covina, California. My point of including this article is not to ridicule the ideas presented (some which I would consider valid), but to highlight the incentive of "profit potential"] The common reaction to a budget crisis is reducing personnel and cutting services. The focus of this article is to provide police agencies with an alternative to personnel and service reductions. This alternative could help the survival of a city and maintain or expand police service through generating new revenue streams as a proactive approach to meet the fiscal crisis of today and the uncertain future of tomorrow.

My appeal is simple: Take the profit incentive out of policing and all communities will in time experience better community policing!

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