Minor offenses drive policing for profit

The number is staggering… according to the FBI, police made an estimated 12,196,959 arrests in 2012. About 2.1 million of those were for violent or property crimes. How many of the rest of them resulted in fines and asset forfeitures designed to swell municipal coffers and police department budgets?

Then, of course, there are the tickets for jaywalking, open containers, parking, speeding, and innumerable automobile infractions. All might be imagined to having some connection to maintaining law and order, but all have also been demonstrated as being connected to the goal of raising revenues.

In the Detroit area, according to a story in Car and Driver, where the economy has taken a mighty hit, issuance of moving violations has close to doubled over the last decade. “When I first started in this job 30 years ago,” area Police Chief Michael Reaves told the magazine, “police work was never about revenue enhancement, but if you’re a chief now, you have to look at whether your department produces revenues. That’s just the reality nowadays.”

A Department of Justice guideline advising local police forces on Asset Forfeiture notes, “Today there are literally hundreds of federal and state forfeiture laws, and such laws continue to be enacted at near record levels… Though it is an enforcement tool, asset forfeiture can assist in the budgeting realm by helping to offset the costs associated with fighting crime.”

Police forces are continuing to examine new ways to beef up their budgets, aside from the simple expedient of steeply rising fines. Items under discussion, or already implemented in some localities, include a fee for each 9-1-1 call; a fee for mandatory on-line traffic school for those “guilty” of minor driving infractions; big-money, escalating citations for “party noise,” and the ever-popular $1000 fine for parents of juveniies arrested for committing graffiti.


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