The profit police
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Let me put this out first. I am not anti-police. I am not anti-government. I was once a law enforcement officer during my career, and most all of my jobs were working for the government, either at federal, state, or at a more local level.
With every government job I swore an oath to support, protect, or to defend our Constitution(s). I guess that act, repeated several times throughout my adult life, is something that contributed strongly to whom I came to be as a person.
As a historian, I have been able to study the history of our federal, state and local governments and their founding documents, which are more or less a rule book for how said government is supposed to operate. And when someone has taken the time to read the rule book and understand what the rules intended, and then they observe how those same rules have either been construed into new interpretations, or just blatantly ignored, they begin to speak out, and that is how this weekly opinion column came to be.
I believe in our Constitution, as it was written, with the intent behind the words when they were written. As times change, we have the ability to amend our Constitution in order to clarify, or amend, anything that may have been omitted or misunderstood.
I am not against government; I am against bad government, and I will call them out as I find them. No matter what, though, the government that we the people have today is not the government intended by the creators of our government.
Our nation was founded by those who took up arms to resist a tax upon tea and to stop an attempt by government authorities to seize the arms of the people. Our state was later founded by many of those same veterans who, in thanks for their service during the American Revolution, were awarded land grants in the newly opened lands recently ceded by the native inhabitants in their ongoing losing war against a more technologically advanced society.
If a time portal could be opened and any of those founders could be brought forward into our modern era, they would be dumbstruck by the leviathan that the state and federal governments have grown to, as well as the submissive compliance by which we-the-people accept the dictates of those who abuse or exceed their authority.
It has been a while, but I used to have occasion to make a daily commute from Coosa County up U.S. Highway 280 to work in Birmingham for the day, returning home each evening. Back then the town of Harpersville was an obvious speed-trap location. And even though I assume myself to be a law-abiding citizen, their local officers pulled me over and cited me for speeding on at least two different occasions, not too far apart. On many other trips though that town, I often spotted a patrol car lying in wait, or with their lights on and their next victim detained.
Harpersville is not the only speed trap location in Alabama. Back in the mid-1970s, the town of Fruithurst made national headlines because of their aggressive policing. The American Automobile Association named Fruithurst as the first ever “national traffic trap.”
A quick internet search pulled up the top 10 current speed trap locations in Alabama as: Hillsboro, North Courtland, Town Creek, Summerdale, Brookside, Silverhill, Ohatchee, Georgiana, Rogersville, and Saint Florian.
Brookside has been in the news of late, and they were the spark that ignited this week’s diatribe from yours truly. Brookside is an old mining town outside of Birmingham. With only about 1,200 residents, Brookside managed to generate a staggering 49% of its revenue in 2020, the most recent year that statistics are available for, from just fines and forfeitures.
Just two years earlier, in 2018, the town of Brookside hired Mike Jones to be their new chief of police. At that time, Chief Jones was the entirety of their one-man police force. In just two years though, Jones would hire nine more police officers and two drug-sniffing dogs as he fueled that growth with overly aggressive traffic enforcement.
In 2020, the Brookside Police, who drive unmarked cars and wear uniforms without any Brookside insignia, issued 3,024 citations, or 2.4 per every actual man, woman and child who lived in that town. In 2018, the total revenue for the town at that time was $589,000, and the Brookside Police only had 50 cars seized and towed after the drivers were arrested and jailed.
Thanks in large part to traffic tickets and seizures, by 2020 Brookside had a revenue of $1,200,000, with 789 cars seized and towed. Chief Jones was quoted as saying that he saw a 640% increase in revenue as a failure, as he lamented the fact that he didn’t have more officers to bring in even more revenue.
Brookside Mayor Mike Bryan called the town’s policing “a positive story,” saying of the reports that “everybody’s got a story, …and 99% of them are lying.” In contrast, Jefferson County Sheriff Mark Pettway was quoted as stating that, “I wouldn’t be surprised if they (the FBI) opened up an investigation. You can’t do what’s going on over there.”
In order to block some of the state’s worst speed traps, the Alabama legislature earlier this year adopted limits as to how much revenue cities can generate from traffic tickets alone. Under the new law, all municipalities throughout the state can receive no more than 10% of their budgets from traffic fines, with any excess being sent to the state’s Crime Victims’ Compensation Fund and Fair Trial Tax Fund.
It was the backlash from the citizens of Brookside, as well as from their representative in Montgomery, that led to Brookside Police Chief Mike Jones’ recent resignation, along with several of his other officers, leaving those who remained to adopt a less aggressive style of revenue generation.
Most of those officers lived in that town, and they were being held accountable by their neighbors for their actions. We-the-people must never forget that our government was created “of the people, by the people and for the people,” – and that means ALL of the people.
It is not the duty of government to enrich their coffers at a cost to the poor, the uneducated, or those who are considered the fringe of society, for whatever minor infraction can be cited. Government’s sole duty is to protect the rights of their citizens, and they should do so at as minimal of a cost to the taxpayer as possible.
Frederick Douglass once surmised that “a man’s rights rest in three boxes: the ballot box, the jury box and the cartridge box.”
Never forget that you, as a voting citizen, hold the power to change bad government. Always use the power of the vote first, but do not forget that you still have other options in order to nullify bad government, should Plan A fail. Keep your government straight, folks!