User fees

A shot in the arm for ailing budgets


     Business as usual will no longer work. The recent $700 billion rescue of the nation's financial system offers plenty proof of that.

     Law enforcement agencies must develop another set of senses that watch for those who, through their own choices, place repeated demands on certain services. Those individuals abusing ambulance transport, creating excessive demands for traffic management or patrol, getting arrested regularly, may all be assessed user fees to pay for their repeated drain on police man-hours.

     Though agencies must never put citizens in a position of deferring requests for emergency services because they cannot afford to pay for them, it's important to train a keen eye on systemic abusers. These individuals must choose to pay up or change their ways.

     The following article lists ways to increase agency revenue through the assessment of user fees.

Latent arrest warrants

     Most communities have a backlog of approximately 1.5 years worth of open warrants. Yet studies show each executed warrant generates an average of $1,100. A medium-sized community with 1,471 actionable warrants is sitting on $1.6 million in revenue waiting to be collected.

     Just 70 percent of warrants are executed within 90 days of issuance. The remaining 30 percent become stale. In a community where the court issues 30 warrants weekly, the annual value of stale warrants is $514,800. By assigning officers to execute warrants and deducting their wages from the income, the community is left with $302,000 of new revenue each year.

Citation tech levy

     Simply assess a fee to every citation adjudicated by the court with the exception of parking tickets. The amount commonly used is $20 per ticket, although these fees can range from $10 to $30. For a department generating 500 tickets weekly, the $20 tech fee generates $520,000 in new annual revenue. This cash can help fund equipment for traffic enforcement activities.

Enhanced parking fines

     This is an ideal tool when a community has a lot of paid parking space. A department maintains the existing fine schedule for parking violations but equips officers with handheld computers that communicate with the court's information system. Officers use these computers to check the court database for outstanding parking tickets for the same vehicle. If there are any, the fine escalates to $100. If there are two or more delinquent tickets, the enhanced fine applies and the car is impounded.

Impounded vehicle fee

     This fee is collected at the police station. Whenever a vehicle is impounded, the department provides written vehicle release authorization to tow operators. This is done after checking the state system, NCIC, the detective bureau and with any other stakeholders. The requestor must show a valid driver's license, proof of insurance, etc. I recommend a fee of $75 per release. If an agency impounds 20 vehicles a week, this translates into $78,000 per year.

Booking and lodging fees

     These are charges levied on each prisoner. It is an attempt to recover costs associated with the booking process. A commonly assessed fee is $125 per booking. This covers the time devoted by officers, transport, fingerprints, mugshots, handling of personal property, and other activities.

     Some communities charge for meals and lodging while a prisoner is in jail. We likely cannot recover all costs but even collecting $100 per day helps. If the court will cooperate, it can be made part of the punishment, i.e. restitution. Otherwise, the department will issue its own statement and collect it on its own.

Freeway patrol

     This is an opportunity for communities with freeways in the area. The concept is simple: deploy a selective enforcement team to the freeways within the jurisdiction.

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