The subject of police departments as revenue collection agencies is getting a bigger airing in state legislatures. The latest example comes from Missouri, where a municipality in St. Louis County has been forced to curtail its lucrative speed trap near the airport.
Currently, Missouri towns cannot take in more than 30% of their revenue from traffic fines. Next year that figure drops to 20%, with a special limit for St. Louis County – 12.5%. That is a political reaction to the riots in the town of Ferguson.
The municipality with the notorious speed trap is St. Ann, population 13,000, which stepped up traffic enforcement after a mall closed, ending a reliable stream of sales tax revenue.
The Huffington Post reported that St. Ann Police Chief Aaron Jimenez expressed “mixed feelings” about the legislation.
Chief Jimenez: “I jumped out ahead because I knew I was losing $1.5 million out of my budget [when the legislation kicks in]. I had to lay off 10 officers. Half of them were able to retire.”
The story also quoted St. Ann Mayor Michael Corcoran: “People act like our city survived off those funds off the highway and that’s clearly not the case.”
He said St. Ann is “on solid ground” financially, but then took a shot at the state Legislature: “Some of these neighboring communities are not going to survive. … And then what happens?”
I conclude with some mixed feelings. Sorrow for the laid-off officers and their families … and contempt for jurisdictions that blatantly police for profit. More state legislatures are going to act, and some LEOs may find themselves down to a single bullet, like Barney Fife.