User fees

     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.

     In our example, an urban community has two freeways within its boundaries. The agency deploys two units to each freeway for two 10-hour shifts, six days a week. Officers are expected to write an average of three moving violations (each) per hour. The average amount collected is around $110 per ticket. It is also estimated that the increased citizen contact will result in two additional DUI arrests per shift.

     Providing sufficient primary and backup officers along with supervision, cars, equipment, overtime, and other costs are all included in the calculation.

     The bottom line: income in excess of expenses is $9.4 million per year.

Towing service franchise fees

     Every law enforcement agency has created relationships with one (or more) towing services. In some cases, there is no cost to the city. Other times, the city may pay for certain services and get others gratis.

     Whether handled on a rotation basis or with a sole provider, the police department is generating business for tow operators. In any other viable private-sector arrangement, the tow operator would pay a commission or finder's fee to anyone bringing him business.

     If an agency runs a rotation of multiple tow operators, it can charge an annual fee to these businesses for being on its list. The amount will vary based on how many vehicles the operator can expect to tow. I suggest a minimum of $5,000 per year and an upper limit of $25,000 per year.

     Every time dispatch calls for a tow, the tow operator also may be charged $25. If the tow truck driver arrives on scene within 10 minutes, the fee is cut to $10. This approach provides a financial incentive for the operator to get there fast and cuts the time officers spend at the scene.

     Invariably, some vehicles remain at the tow operator's yard and result in the owner paying storage fees. The agency would receive 10 percent of all storage fees collected by the tow operator.

     And, if the tow operator ultimately sells the vehicle because it is never claimed by the owner, the department receives 33 percent of the profit from the sale.

     Tow operators will howl when such fees are announced. But the reality is the costs will be passed along to vehicle owners. It's just another form of a user fee.

Safe streets

     This concept is a win-win for all involved. Cops in the department get a healthy dose of overtime on a regular basis, the number of vehicle crashes plummets, and police revenues get a healthy bump.

     Here's how it works. A department creates four hour-long overtime blocks at the end of each shift. Officers can sign up to work them at their own discretion. Agencies may want to create a maximum number of blocks that a single officer can work in any period to ensure he gets enough rest. In an eight-hour shift day, there would be three blocks per day; 21 blocks per week. Multiple officers can work at any one time — to the limit that cars are available.

     An officer working this time block is expected to write at least three moving violation citations — 12 tickets for the block. If any officer misses the mark twice in a month, he may not sign up again for 30 days. If an officer gets a DUI arrest, he automatically fulfills the requirement for the entire block.

     In this example, two cops work at the end of both the day and afternoon shifts. One cop works at the end of the midnight shift. That's five blocks per day.

     Calculating the income from the fines and ticket costs, and subtracting the costs for wages and overtime leaves a community with $2,735,000 of additional revenue each year.

Fees for VIN checks

     In some states, when a tow operator has an abandoned car and wants to sell it, he must have the police department perform a VIN check. This ensures the vehicle is not stolen and doesn't have any liens on it. In one Michigan city, it was determined that as much as 10 hours per week was being devoted these types of inquiries.

     The police department in this city made a change. VIN checks performed on vehicles brought to the main police station were done free of charge, but those performed at elsewhere cost $100 each.

Utility protective service

     We've all been sent to guard downed electric wires following a severe storm. Though it's for public safety reasons, officers are guarding the assets of a private company and preventing the utility from being sued if a citizen is hurt or killed.

     Consider this change. The police department guard downed lines, broken mains, etc. for a period of 30 minutes at no charge. Once dispatchers notify the utility of the emergency, it will be charged $100 per hour for guard service after 30 minutes has passed.

False alarm fees

     All departments are plagued by repetitive calls as the result of false alarms. Agencies not currently levying a charge for responding to these false alarms should begin so immediately.

     Some officials have been reluctant to impose such a charge because it can be difficult to collect. The remedy is to add overdue alarm charges to the owner's property tax bill and collect it as part of their taxes.

DUI cost recovery

     It takes many hours for arresting officers to process and record a drunken driving arrest. Asking the drunk to pay the costs of enforcement is reasonable.

     Some communities have each participating officer record their time spent on the arrest. When complete, the hours are totaled and multiplied times $100 per hour. The average amount recovered will be approximately $1,500 per arrest.

Special enforcement districts

     These are places requiring extraordinary police attention. In the suburban community, for example, examine at a large shopping center. It requires so much attention that it has been made a "district" by the local police department with officers assigned to patrol it.

     This shopping center is populated by profit-making businesses. Rather than hiring private security, the center relied on local police for enforcement, which often resulted in staffing shortages elsewhere in the city. The solution was to allow one incident requiring officer response per 24-hour period at no charge. Every response thereafter was billed at $200 each to the shopping center owner, who passed the charge along to retail store owners. As a result some stores hired private security to handle these matters.

     Today, there are fewer frivolous calls for service and these fees have generated hundreds of thousands in new revenue for this department.

Special assessment districts

     These are most likely entertainment districts within the community. They are generally a concentric, contiguous area that can be well served by foot patrol officers.

     Because alcohol is served, the business owners face a higher-than-normal percentage of people behaving badly. The affects of such behavior often can be mitigated by police presence.

     Here restaurants and taverns can agree to a "seat tax," that is an additional tax levied solely to fund added (and dedicated) police officers to patrol the district. One of the more creative approaches I've seen levied a $10 seat tax ($10 per year per seat as determined by the fire department occupancy permit).

     Depending on applicable state law, agencies may be able to have this added to business owners' annual property tax bills. Otherwise, it may be necessary to bill them separately.

Student enrollment tax

     This is yet another means to attach a fee to an entity that drives costs. In our example, a rural community is home to a small university with a total student population of approximately 5,000. Under state law, the college is exempt from local property taxes.

     However, the city public safety department was charged with providing police, fire and EMS services without any support from the school. The department was facing layoffs due to tight budget conditions. Its answer was to levy a tax on student enrollment ($10 per student per semester). The resulting revenue was $120,000 per year.

Accident investigation fees

     The costs of this service are provided at no charge on any crash where at least one of the participants is a community resident. However, in extensive investigations where no local citizen is involved, these costs can be billed to the insurance company of the at-fault driver. Simply add the total amount to the accident report provided to the insurance company.

     This list is not complete. Each police department and city has its own unique opportunities. Details are critical. Cooperation is vital. A change in the way police managers think about revenue is mandatory. However, the results are well worth the effort.

     Whining about the need for more money may work for the fat cats on Wall Street. But it's not going to work for you. It's time to wake up and smell the coffee.

     Jim Donahue is a certified ILEETA member who currently trains patrol officers how to use patrol car computers — safely. Donahue recently earned his peace officer certification in the State of Florida. Donahue is an accomplished grant writer and can be reached at musclecop@sterlingyes.com.

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