Police Banned From Enforcing Traffic Laws In Oklahoma Town Over Abuse Of Traffic Tickets For Money

from the Radar-Gun-once-again-selected-as-Officer-of-the-Year! dept

When police departments begin viewing themselves as revenue generating entities rather than law enforcement entities, it has a deleterious effect on the public, which is now viewed as potential income, rather than citizens. If the incentives become perverted, the department will as well. Everything from “booking fees” to forfeiture laws are prone to abuse, especially when the municipality becomes just as addicted to the cash flow.

An Oklahoma town with the population of 410 is in the news precisely because of this abuse. It seems the Oklahoma Dept. of Public Safety (DPS) isn’t happy with the outsized cash haul a single police department has raked in over the past few years.

The Oklahoma Department of Public Safety announced Jan. 13 that Stringtown’s police department no longer would be allowed to enforce traffic laws on state and federal highways that run through the town.

After an investigation — which had been requested by the state attorney general’s office — it was determined that Stringtown generated too much revenue through police-related activities.

State law prohibits cities and towns from generating more than half of their revenue through the collection of traffic fine payments.

According to the most recent audit of Stringtown’s finances, the town generated $483,646 in fines during fiscal year 2013. That figure represents 76 percent of all Springtown revenue.

The year before, traffic fines accounted for about the same amount of cash, or 73 percent of all revenue in fiscal year 2012.

Springtown’s reputation precedes it. A town that would barely register on a map is one of Oklahoma’s most notorious speed traps. And this recent smackdown by the DPS is one of several.

In the mid-2000s, Stringtown police officers were stripped of their authority to write tickets along U.S. 69, causing the department to effectively shut down. Several other towns, including Big Cabin, also had action taken against them around the same time.

It was investigated in the late 1990s, with the end result being an increase in the town’s speed limit in order to better match the surrounding areas. A former Transportation Dept. spokesman also said the town’s PD had been investigated in the 1980s for the same reason.

So, why can’t the Springtown Stringtown PD be taught? Well, it’s because the town itself has come to rely on the influx of income its police department provides. But rather than limit itself to a reasonable amount of money and living within the sort of means most towns with a population of 400 would, Springtown Stringtown began viewing law enforcement as a growth industry.

In the early 1980s, Stringtown had just three full-time city employees. After the end of the decade — six years after Stringtown officials decided to process their own speeding tickets — the town employed 20 full-time workers, six of them full-time police officers.

The money from speeding tickets also built a new city hall and police station, something that’s definitely a luxury for a town that would otherwise be fortunate to bankroll two full-time police officers.

The citizens of Stringtown seem to have bought into the city’s delusion that it “needs” 20 employees and six cops.

OHP Captain Jeff Sewell says that’s a problem for small towns, like Stringtown, with a population of 410.

“They have no other means for revenue. They had a store there, the store shut down. They had an eating place, it shut down. So they really don’t have a place. Nobody puts any businesses up there,” Sewell said.

But there is one corner store where employees are concerned about the lack of law enforcement.

“You know, people breaking in, you know, breaking stuff, stealing stuff,” store employee Cindy Smith said.

The town is mostly dead and yet, the PD’s supporters somehow think a super-prolific speed trap is the proper way to revive it. Smith’s worry about people “breaking in” to the one store still alive in town seems misplaced. If the PD’s ticket revenue is to be believed, everyone was passing through Springtown Stringtown too quickly to be bothered to pull a smash and grab at what seems to be one of the only surviving businesses in the city limits.

Stringtown has been relying on its police force to balance the town’s books for more than 30 years now, despite being forced to go “cold turkey” multiple times. The DPS may have cut off its supply again, but history has proven the town has run out of revenue generation ideas that don’t involve a 6-person PD — stationed in a town of 410 — ticketing as many drivers as possible.

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Comments on “Police Banned From Enforcing Traffic Laws In Oklahoma Town Over Abuse Of Traffic Tickets For Money”

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37 Comments
That One Guy (profile) says:

Yeah, how about that...

“They have no other means for revenue. They had a store there, the store shut down. They had an eating place, it shut down. So they really don’t have a place. Nobody puts any businesses up there,” Sewell said.

Huh, I wonder if that has anything to do with the fact that no-one wants to get anywhere near the town, for worry about being forced into making a ‘donation’ to it’s coffers? Kinda hard to get any outside revenue flowing into the town after all when it’s been made clear that they see outside visitors/drivers as nothing more than wallets-on-wheels.

The Mighty Buzzard (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Nice thought but it just wouldn’t work here. To become a town here you have to have at least one commercial and one industrial business. If you later fall below that bar, any town nearby can annex you any time they like.

The problem is they also have to yoink a continuous tract of land between themselves and the town they want to annex. This being Oklahoma, there is enough open land between towns that it’s just not feasible. Any town taking our worst speedtraps over would have to annex and supply town services to ten, twenty, maybe thirty miles worth of highway frontage to get there.

Andy West (profile) says:

Until Oklahoma takes Springtown's charter away...

On U.S. 69 going north at Atoka, take U.S. 75 north and west to Coalgate. At Coalgate, follow north Main Street off of U.S. 75 onto state road 31. Keep on state road 31 out of Coalgate and past Cottonwood. At the intersection of state roads 31 and 131, take route 131. The road will join U.S. 69 near Reynolds Lake, far north of Springtown, bypassing the town entirely.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

I’m assuming with reduced funds they might have to lay off a couple of them. Then to keep someone there 24/7 they’d need to go through rotating shifts which would probably take 3 of them, and they’d need the last cop to deal with the rest of the town.

Of course they could just start arresting people for loitering in the store and make up some of the revenue that way.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: How to game the system

Secede the city from USA, reduce corporate taxation to 0 % and throw a party!

Close the federal and state roads and keep the buck rolling for a while. Follow up by making the area a “quiet zone” and make it a public disturbance violation. I haven’t even touched on the elephant in the room. If the city wants to cheat, they can cheat. Atleast for a while…

Anonymous Coward says:

Usually a lot of the revenue goes missing

I don’t know if it happened in this case, but I remember reading stories about one of these little towns becoming like this. They even had dump trucks that would drive slowly and make left hand turns, and when people went around them on the right they’d get pulled over for crossing the shoulder line.

Well, after the state shut everything down, they went to look for all the money they had collected and surprise, most of it was missing.

DannyB (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Saying that a small town cannot charge a toll on a federal highway that passes through is as silly as saying that the mafiaa cannot charge business owners for protection against ‘something bad’ happening to their business in the middle of the night.

The people of this town are the same caliber of people charging for the protection of businesses. It creates incomes for people collecting the money.

For example, if a group of kids charge a business owner $1.50 / week not to break their front window, isn’t that much cheaper than replacing the window? So it is a good business decision to pay. Similar to signing a patent extortion cross license agreement with Microsoft or Apple.

Anonymous Coward says:

Stringtown's primary industry is a state prison

As anyone who takes that stretch of highway from Dallas to Tulsa knows, Stringtown was merely the worst of several speed traps along US 69, with Atoka running a close second for a long time, though they finally fixed their signage some years ago.

Stringtown is the home of the Mack Alford Correctional Center, a medium-security prison run by the state of Oklahoma, housing a maximum of 800 inmates or so. The prison is actually called “Stringtown” by most people, I had to google to find its real name. The prison is right on US69, which features “don’t pick up hitchhiker” signs for several miles around the prison.

Besides the prison and whatever commerce comes through on the highway, I think the only other industry in the area is strip mining, a little cattle, hunting leases, and less-than-licit activities (moonshining lives on in southern Oklahoma). There may be a few pocket farms around, but they’d be small, marginal operations at best.

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