Tiny Little Cities and Policing for Profit
Today’s Post-Dispatch has an article on sobriety checkpoints in North St. Louis County. Issues such as the heavy use of police powers by extremely small cities have been in the news ever since the recent situation in St. George. Needless the say, the Post thinks the purpose of the checkpoints is not safety, but money. The above term, "policing for profit," is not mine. It is used by a police chief quoted in the article, who is opposed to the practice (emphasis added):
Normandy Police Chief Douglas Lebert said the stretch of Natural Bridge through Pine Lawn, Uplands Park and Beverly Hills didn’t appear to have a major problem with alcohol-related accidents. "I would say that the lack of solid crash data and the fact that they’re not concerned with the business owners’ perspective on this leads me to believe that it’s policing for profit, not policing to try to solve a problem," Lebert said last week.
Abuse of the law in issuing and enforcing traffic tickets is one of the most real and obvious examples of the problems with so many tiny municipalities in St. Louis County. Either police in small cities care about safety more than the police in larger cities and unincorporated St. Louis County, or the police in small cities are enforcing traffic laws for the purpose of funding government, rather than promoting safety. The answer is obviously the latter. The existing state laws that cap the percentage of funds any one city can raise from traffic fines needs to be tightened further. The notion of using government police powers to fund government itself is noxious. And, yes, forfeiture laws at higher levels of government are also a conflict.
If the state lowered the percentage of funds a tiny city is allowed to raise through traffic fines, those cities would have to get their money elsewhere or else disincorportate/merge. Since the primary means of acquiring additional revenue would involve raising property taxes, it would not take long before the citizens of the Uplands Parks and St. Georges of Missouri would force their cities to strongly consider either merging or dissolution.