It is not hard to understand the origins behind the notion of what some have coined policing for profit. Ours is a society where most working people in the private sector earn their living by making a profit from goods or services, either as the owner of the goods or services selling them to others, or as an employee of the owner who shares in the profit through a wage. Much of their attention is thus consumed. It can be hard for some of them to understand, then, when something takes place (police enforcement) for which a payment is required (a fine upon conviction) that the motive is anything but profit-driven. Almost all of them do understand the need for very serious offenses to have consequences, but question just how serious are some of the offenses most otherwise law-abiding citizens are likely to commit (traffic and parking, etc) that cost them a significant sum of money.
These same people understand our economy is still very volatile and states, counties and cities are struggling or, in some cases, flat broke. In an information saturated and web-connected world, volumes of articles and opinion pieces are at their fingertips discussing and debating police salaries and benefits, taxpayer pension obligations, police corruption, cameras to catch red light and speed violators, criminal and civil asset forfeitures of suspected offenders of all stripes, and how the poor economy threatens police service. Is it really any wonder some conclude our enforcement efforts are monetarily, rather than safety, motivated?
"Nonsense," you might say, "this is all just the public's mistaken perception." Maybe, but consider that, without contradictory evidence, perception becomes the accepted reality, regardless of truth, and much of the public assume our motivation for our most visible activity - traffic enforcement - is to generate revenue anyway. Unfortunately, there is plenty of supporting evidence easily found, and much of it offered up by police officers. Consider the following:
- In a November 2008 Detroit News article ("Traffic Fines Help Fill City Coffers" - 11/17/2008) on dramatic increases in traffic citations issued in Detroit and its suburbs, Utica, MI Police Chief Michael Reaves was quoted, "When I first started in this job thirty years ago, 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."
- An April 2010 article in the Springfield (IL) State Journal Register ("Area Sheriffs Concerned About State Police Cutbacks" - 4/4/2010) focused mainly on safety and response implications of an Illinois State Police reduction in force and closing of five ISP district headquarters, but a significant portion of the story were various sheriffs and county officials bemoaning the potential loss to the counties in fine revenue. Perhaps an understandable concern, but the very public assertions only reinforce the perception that "tickets are really about the money."
- Quoted in a recent Cincinnati.com article ("Police Divided Over Merits of Ticket Quotas" - 5/13/2010), Woodlawn, OH Police Chief Walter Obermeyer was about as frank as one can be while promoting ticket standards (quotas?) via a department memo, stating if each officer wrote at least ten tickets a month $194,000 could be generated for the city annually. He continued, "If we would send our criminal cases into Mayor's Court instead of downtown, it would generate even more revenue." He warned, "Officers who do not meet the standards will not receive their step increases or pay raises when the village approves them." When the story was reported in the Cincinnati Enquirer, Obermeyer redacted the mention of discipline from the memo.
- And it was reported in January of this year, in the Syracuse (NY) Post-Standard that Auburn, NY Police Chief Gary Giannotta announced in a police staff meeting a new citation standard for his department’s patrol officers: Each officer must write one traffic citation per shift worked or face discipline - and his stated purpose was allegedly to increase fine revenue for the city by $2500 per month ("Auburn Police Chief Wants Officers to Write at Least One Ticket a Day to Raise Money for City" - 1/13/2010). His directive appears to be in violation of state labor laws.
These are just a few of the documented incidents where apparent evidence of policing for profit exists or is being pushed, at least on a localized scale, in some jurisdictions. There are plenty more anecdotal examples, sometimes as described by directly affected police officers, lending further credence to the perception.