A "money first" policy may have polluted the relationship between
Ferguson, Missouri citizens and law enforcement,
contributing to the recent unrest following the slaying of a black youth.
Municipal fine collections in Ferguson have increased 80 percent in two
years, and the $2.5 million accounts for one-fifth of the city's revenue.
One law professor estimated that the municipal court, which is in session
three days a month, heard between 200 and 300 cases an hour.
In addition to live enforcement, the town of 21,000 has three red-light
cameras which resulted in 5,318 tickets in 2013.
Governor Brown recently issued a
warning about high PAs, stating that if the fine was too high, some people might
be forced to sit in jail a few days because they couldn't afford to
pay the ticket. Such an outcome turns a potential revenue source into
an actual cost: instead of collecting money, the state has to pay money
to house the inmate.
High traffic ticket fines in Kern County are hardest on poor people because
fines are regressive. A person who earns $4,000 a month can rather easily
afford a $200 ticket, but a family earning less than half that amount
may be hard-pressed to come up with the money. With the average fine soaring
and red light and speeding ticket fines now nearing $500 in many cases,
even your typical middle class family has to budget carefully to handle
their ticket. With the
continued use of red-light cameras, and other money-first policies, are California law enforcement agencies
in danger of alienating large parts of the population with too high fines
and violations for tickets that were not dangerous?
Police officers have traditionally approached their job as a public service
to protect the public from evildoers. But as more and more laws are passed
making what once was legal behavior illegal, and as court costs and fees
continue to rise, more of the population is starting to think of our dedicated
police officers as glorified meter maids. That's a disservice to most
officers and bad public policy. Let's hope California wakes up and
starts evaluating how they use fines to raise revenue, rather than as
the legitimate public safety tool it was originally designed to be.