Law Enforcement Is Not About Generating Revenue: Speed Trap And Booking Fee Edition

from the petty-cash-for-petty-people dept

People “ruining” speed traps by warning oncoming drivers usually results in some sort of interdiction by law enforcement. In most cases, what the citizen is doing isn’t actually illegal, but that usually doesn’t stop the person for being charged with something. A federal court ruled that warning other drivers of hidden cop cars (in this case by flashing your lights) is protected speech. Holding a sign saying “police ahead” is basically the same thing.

The Frisco traffic officer was camped in an unmarked Chevy, trying to catch drivers going above the speed limit, when he noticed something suspicious. Some of the motorists could see him. They waved. He had a feeling that a man named Ron Martin might have had something to do with it. Also aiding his suspicions:

Another officer had given him a heads-up via radio that he’d seen Martin out that day.

Martin is well known among the Frisco traffic cops. He has a history of “holding signs in the center median of traffic,” as officer Thomas Mrozinski explained in a police report. His signs carry a simple message: “Police Ahead.”

Mrozinski drove eastbound down Eldorado Parkway, Frisco’s main artery. Sure enough there was Martin, standing in the median of the busy road. He hoisted a “Police Ahead” sign above his shoulder. “The sign appeared to be self-constructed with a yellow background and lettering in black attached to a wooden stick,” Mrozinski writes in his police report.

Because Ron Martin wasn’t doing anything necessarily wrong, Officer Mrozinski has to dig deep to find a criminal charge to use against Martin. He fell back on “violating a city ordinance.” Martin’s sign was confiscated and he was booked on misdemeanor charges.

In Martin’s case, the officers charged him with violating Frisco’s human sign ordinance, a Class C misdemeanor. The police report doesn’t explain how he violated that specific law, and it doesn’t seem to apply in this case. Frisco’s city code defines human signs as humans who are in costume or otherwise holding or wearing signs for advertising purposes. And though he is a professional sign painter, Martin maintains that he wasn’t advertising anything that day in the Eldorado median, just protesting.

Martin claims he was just trying to make the road “safer.” Arguably, he was. Drivers were slowing down after reading his sign (and waving to the cop in the unmarked SUV). In that way, his ends were no different than the cop’s: discourage speeding. But the cop arresting Martin felt the sign “interfered with enforcement duties.” But unless Mrozinski had a quota to fill — something that has been ruled illegal nearly everywhere — the lack of speeders meant there was nothing to enforce.

The other argument used to justify hassling people who point out speed traps is that the person’s actions prevent the department from collecting needed funds. Ticket revenue may fund police departments to a certain extent, but that’s not the reason tickets exist. A police officer’s purpose isn’t to generate revenue. It’s to enforce laws. With tickets, the two coincide, but if police departments rely heavily on tickets and fines for revenue, it becomes a perverse incentive. Police departments may not like seeing a source of revenue drying up thanks to someone holding up a warning sign, but there’s little they can do about it. Generating revenue should never be the purpose for any law enforcement action.

Unless, of course, a very dubious circuit court decision declares generating revenue to be a legitimate part of “police business.”

In this case, the court found that charging an arrested person a $30 booking fee was perfectly legal, as the PD had every right to earn money. So, anyone being arrested has to pay, whether or not the charges stick. No refunds.

Under Title 5 of its Village Code, the Village of Woodridge charges every arrestee in its custody a $30 booking fee. Indeed, after Woodridge police arrested the plaintiff-appellant for retail theft on January 8, 2011, the Village collected its $30 booking fee from him, without any opportunity to contest that collection either before or after the fee was taken. Mr. Markadonatos is not alone—Woodridge has taken the same $30 fee from each of the large number of people arrested and booked in its vicinity.

According to this decision, it’s perfectly fine for the Village of Woodridge to generate revenue this way, either to simply “make ends meet” or turn a profit.

Woodridge’s booking fee clearly passes the rational basis test. In imposing the fee, Woodridge hopes to offset the cost of booking arrestees, or at the very least to collect revenue, either of which is a legitimate goal.

Scott Greenfield (along with the dissenting judge) tears that argument apart:

This is sheer insanity.

In dissent, Judge Hamilton writes what any person whose vision isn’t obscured by his rectum walls already knows:

“This should be a simple case. The village’s ‘booking fee’ ordinance is unconstitutional on its face. It takes property from all arrestees—the guilty and the innocent alike—without due process of law. The deprivation occurs at the time of arrest, immediately and finally. It occurs based on only the say-so and perhaps even the whim of one arresting officer. By no stretch of the imagination can that be due process of law.”

This $30 booking fee, imposed immediately upon arrest because, well, a cop decided to arrest someone (and the donuts are ready, but that’s too snarky to say), is as facially, flagrantly, offensively unconstitutional as it gets. This isn’t a tough call.

This sort of decision will encourage those — officers and supervisors — who honestly believe police departments exist to generate revenue. Seeing as anyone being booked is charged $30, the incentive shifts from enforcing the law to booking as many people as possible. The actual charges aren’t important as the fee is mandatory and backed by law. Routine infractions become trips “downtown,” rather than warnings or tickets.

The same goes for stretching an advertising ordinance to fit some guy warning other drivers about a speed trap. Both people involved have ostensibly the same goal — a reduction in speeding. Only one of them believes slower drivers means police business has been interfered with. And those defending this officer will often point to the loss of revenue, as if that were the point.

Even a majority of the commenters at Police One News, a law enforcement-oriented site, side with the guy holding the sign. Basically: he’s doing our job and he’s doing it for free. An empty marked police car will have the same effect as a guy holding a sign on the median. People slow down. But somehow, Officer Mrozinski managed to view it as an illegal act, one that prevented him and his unmarked vehicle from pouncing on speeders and making them pay. Someone took the fun out of his job and that someone needs to learn that you don’t screw with cops, even if all he managed to throw at him was a misdemeanor based on an obscure advertising ordinance.

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Comments on “Law Enforcement Is Not About Generating Revenue: Speed Trap And Booking Fee Edition”

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Ryan Jentzsch (profile) says:

Pay for Stay

This goes hand in hand with the for profit prison system. When I was arrested (failure to appear for a nonmoving violation of not having my car registered but out on the street) I was charged $12 each day for the privilege of being incarcerated. Regardless of if I were convicted or not.
It’s all about money. Make no mistake. Police are there to protect and serve, not fill the city’s coffers with money. Oh, wait this is Amerika. I forgot…

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Pay for Stay

First, municipal jails are not the same as for profit prisons. For profit prisons make money from contracts with the state or federal government so that the state and federal governments don’t have to build and manage them themselves. They don’t make their money directly off of the inmates. The two main problems with for profit prisons are that 1. the perverse incentive to have them filled exists in order to create a demand for new contracts to build and manage additional ones and 2. the incentive exists to try to cut corners in order to maximize profits at the expense of inhumane treatment of inmates. Neither of these situations exist with municipal jails and police departments enforcing petty misdemeanors such as traffic violations.

Also, in many states there when someone is held in custody for a misdemeanor such as a traffic violation, there is a mandated amount per day that the court has to give the defendant in CREDIT that is often used to offset the fines that were accessed for the charge. So when you spend time in jail for a traffic ticket, they technically pay you instead of the other way around.

ottermaton (profile) says:

Re: Re: Pay for Stay

Neither of these situations exist with municipal jails and police departments enforcing petty misdemeanors such as traffic violations.

You couldn’t be more wrong. County/municipal jails are funded by the Federal government which determines the amount of funding by … guess what? … number of inmates!

Also, most of these jails don’t run their own food services. They contract it out. Guess what that means? Cutting rations to increase profits!!! Woohoo!

So when you spend time in jail for a traffic ticket, they technically pay you instead of the other way around.

That is the most distorted view of what’s happening there that I have ever heard. Hell no they’re not “paying” you to be in jail, they are just giving you credit against your fines for time served. That’s a lot different than “paying” you.

But the big point is this: those “credits” for time served go ONLY against fines and do NOTHING to reduce those charges that are assessed against an inmate for each day incarcerated. Those STILL have to be paid.

Where the hell did you come up with this nonsense?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Pay for Stay

The issues of federal or state prisons which are built and run by private companies (which is what people are referring to when they say “for profit prisons”) is A LOT different than the situation with municipal jails. Sure they may receive some federal funding based on the number of inmates and may contract some stuff out like meals, but that’s not anywhere near the stuff that you hear about in the privately run prisons that have mostly long term inmates.

As for the comment about them crediting you against your fine. If you didn’t have a fine against you, you wouldn’t be there in the first place. Crediting you for time served has exactly the same result as paying you for the served, but withholding it to offset the fine so in that situation there it’s a matter of semantics. Charging you a per day fee, just means they have less to withhold so what else is the real difference? I’ve never seen that before but it wouldn’t surprise me if some places do that.

ottermaton (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Pay for Stay

This is a little late so you may not even see it, but allow me to correct you again.

Crediting you for time served has exactly the same result as paying you for the served, but withholding it to offset the fine so in that situation there it’s a matter of semantics.

It’s more than “semantics” by a long shot. As I can illustrate with this very simple example: Suppose you have a fine of $11 and you get a per day “credit” of $10. In order to satisfy the fine you must be held 2 days minimum. Do you actually think they’re going to give you the $9 change when you walk out the door? Or, even more absurdly, prorate the time so that you serve 26.4 hours? Hell no. And that’s why it’s not like being paid and why it’s not just semantics.

Charging you a per day fee, just means they have less to withhold so what else is the real difference?

The per day fee is something completely outside the fines and something a person is still responsible for after leaving incarceration. I don’t know how you figure this is “less to withhold” and a “difference” (both implying subtraction) when it’s actually adding to the costs. Imagine a situation where the per day charge is higher than the per day credit (and in most counties the per day charge increases with each subsequent visit, so this is entirely possible); that would mean you would never get out. Absurd.

I’ve never seen that before but it wouldn’t surprise me if some places do that.

That’s pretty clear. So instead of trying to argue with me you should just listen instead.

BeeAitch (profile) says:

Re: Pay for Stay

Can confirm. I received an OWI conviction that included 4 days in jail. I paid $75 US a day for my incarceration.

Added bonus: one guy I was locked up with was in for meth production. Of the entire 96 hours, every waking moment I spent I watched this guy pace and listened to him talk about how to make meth. My probation officer asked me how I liked my “experience”. I told her “it wasn’t a total loss, I learned how to make meth”.

She was apoplectic. I couldn’t understand why.

Anonymous Coward says:

when are people going to admit to themselves that while there might be some good cops, the reality is that the personality types that go into this line of work are those that tend to be predatory in nature, not altruistic in nature. That is to say, the average cop isn’t a cop because he honestly thinks in his heart that he is doing good, he’s a cop because he likes the power. Yeah yeah, they all say the right things when interviewed, but their actions, bad ones, of which there are a lot, speak volumes to their real motives.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

… 90% of them ARE there because the altruistically want to make a positive difference in the world.

If that’s so, then they can start by weeding out the ‘10%’ that are making the rest of them, and ‘law enforcement’ as a whole, look bad by abusing their power and authority. When they do that, then I’ll believe that 90% of them are actually good and looking to make a positive difference.

Anonymous Coward says:

Well, here it works like this: Police announce that they will set up a speedtrap on the internet. While the speedtrap is active, drivers will blink with their headlights as a warning for the oncoming traffic right after passing the trap.

We had this discussion in the 1990s. One of the most convincing arguments was that some people were buying equipment able to find the traps and warn the driver so it was completely impossible to keep it a complete secret. Since the equipment had several legal uses and was too hard to single out, it was deemed impossible to stop.
To avoid an advantage in owning and using this type of equipment, the police started informing about their speedtraps.

ChrisB (profile) says:


In Alberta (Canada), the police ticket people who hold up signs or flash their high beams, warning of speed traps, with “stunting” (section 115.2.e).

“perform or engage in any stunt or other activity that is
likely to distract, startle or interfere with users of the

The idea is that doing this may make someone change their driving, like slamming on the brakes, which may lead to an accident.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Stunting

ChrisB (profile), Feb 4th, 2014 @ 7:24am

In Alberta (Canada), the police ticket people who hold up signs or flash their high beams, warning of speed traps, with “stunting” (section 115.2.e).

“perform or engage in any stunt or other activity that is
likely to distract, startle or interfere with users of the

The idea is that doing this may make someone change their driving, like slamming on the brakes, which may lead to an accident.

Activity that is likely to distract… or interfere…

So… if I use my blinker to ‘distract’ the attention of the other drivers to switch lanes I am technically afowl of this law.

Brilliant! Another side effect of unintended consequences. So it is technically ILLEGAL to drive in (Alberta)Canada because you cannot do so without breaking a law.

ltlw0lf (profile) says:

Re: So what is the difference between...

Someone holding up a sign warning of a speed trap, or a person who has purchased a radar detector?

Radar Detectors are legal in most states (Washington DC and Vermont being the two exceptions.) Radar Jammers are illegal federally and Laser Jammers in quite a few states.

If your radar detector only receives signals and alerts you, it is perfectly safe to have except in those two places. The problem is that some of the devices out there called radar detectors do some sort of jamming, where they send signals back to the radar device that attempt to confuse it.

Anonymous Coward says:

“Ticket revenue may fund police departments to a certain extent, but that’s not the reason tickets exist.”

Bullshit. That’s the MAIN reason they exist. It may not be the reason used to justify them. But make no mistake it is the primary reason that many police departments have entire divisions dedicated just to writing traffic tickets.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Actually, tickets are minor punitive measures designed to discourage speeding and other types of reckless driving without having to haul the average Joe who’s late for a meeting downtown. It just so happens they are also a decent source of revenue. Police departments should NOT be turning speeding tickets into a business, though.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Spend one day or evening observing the traffic court of a a large municipality where the dockets are WAY over-booked such that there aren’t enough seats for everyone and the defendants are herded through like cattle being lead one by one to slaughter as cases are not so much heard as they are processed yet each hour’s scheduled docket starts late because the previous one ran over schedule. Then remind yourself that all of these cases are the one’s that didn’t just say “Fuck it” and pay it ahead of time so they wouldn’t have to deal with the hassle. Then realize that in this building they have 10 or so Make no mistake, it’s handled as a high volume revenue generating machine. It’s much less about getting people to drive in a safer manner.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 some states clamping down on ticket revenue

There have been efforts in several states over the years to rein in the type of overzealous traffic cops that cities often rely on for revenue.

20 years ago when Texas law capped the amount that cities could keep (the remainder of fine revenue had to be given up to state coffers) the number of traffic tickets dropped remarkably. (who’d have ever guessed?)

Yes, it’s a racket. But then so is “civil forfeiture” – perhaps the greatest police abuse of all.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 some states clamping down on ticket revenue

Exactly. I remember that. But it didn’t really affect the big municipalities that much because they had so much other income from property taxes that it didn’t come close to meeting the percentage threshold of the total city budget. What it really hit were the small towns that ran speed traps that constituted 90% of the town’s annual budget. Part of that law also required all of them to pay a certain flat rate to the state for every amount collected regardless of how small which was supposed to mean that they couldn’t keep all of what they collected. Instead of course what really happened was that they just tacked that amount on as an increase to the fee or additional court cost.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:4 some states clamping down on ticket revenue

Also “threat of property taxes” taxes — like the city of Houston threatening to annex refineries built on unincorporated county land far outside city limits, but agreeing to leave them alone as long as a big cash tribute is paid each year.

Basically legalized ransom. It’s not just the Mafia that operates “protection” rackets.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:6 some states clamping down on ticket revenue

That’s a big reason why Disney — ever legally shrewd — got the Florida government to set up a special administrative district in which to build Disney World. They foresaw the issue of hostile annexation decades before it became common practice.

I don’t know the details, but I very much suspect that the reason Detroit went bankrupt was because the city was totally “boxed in” and unable to annex any of the surrounding affluent industrial and commercial areas that ring Detroit.

That’s how decaying cities survive — by sucking the blood out of suburban communities.

Anonymous Coward says:

Blogging about ongoing police “traps” can also get you thrown in jail:

“A 34-YEAR-OLD woman, the mother of a 12-year-old girl, has been locked up in a Virginia jail for three weeks. Her crime? Blogging about the police. Elisha Strom, who appears unable to make the $750 bail, was arrested outside Charlottesville on July 16 when police raided her house, confiscating notebooks, computers and camera equipment. Although the Charlottesville police chief, Timothy J. Longo Sr., had previously written to Ms. Strom warning her that her blog posts were interfering with the work of a local drug enforcement task force … “

Anonymous Coward says:

Wrong reason, but right result

From the concurring opinion:

… it is undisputed that Markadonatos was lawfully arrested and charged with retail theft, entered a guilty plea, and was sentenced to a 12-month term of supervision and ordered to pay various court costs and criminal-justice fees.

The guy’s claim deserved to be rejected. But the court should have just stopped there, and told him that since his arrest was lawful he did not have standing to challenge the fee. It should be challenged by someone who was booked but either acquitted or never charged.

ltlw0lf (profile) says:

Re: Re:

BTW, is driving with tinted like that windows legal in Frisco?

I am not that familiar with Texas motor vehicle laws, but I suspect like other states, it is only illegal for commoners. Police officers, commercial vehicle operators (taxi/private transportation,) and government officials are likely exempt either by the law or by professional courtesy.

New Mexico Mark says:

Devil's advocate

While I’m definitely on the sign-guy’s side in this matter, mostly because of the lame charges and bogus fees, I understand police frustration with his actions. (This is with the HUGE caveat that this was a legitimate law enforcement attempt to make long-term changes to driver behavior in a high-risk area. Now wipe your nose and clean up the milk on the table.)

Anticipatory warnings (like “police ahead” signs or even empty police cars) to aggressive, habitual speeders will only have the effect of very temporary behavior modification to avoid getting caught. Getting tickets/fines/points tends to make a difference for a longer time. I speak from experience as someone who hasn’t had a ticket in decades, but who made significant “contributions” to law enforcement funding in my youth.

I seriously doubt Mr. Signman (Martin) is truly altruistic in his motivations. After all, if his goal were simply to help drivers slow down, he would maximize his efforts by holding up “slow down” signs where there are no police cars.

If this was truly just a speed trap having little or nothing to do with safety, I’m on the cheerleading squad for anything done legally to “interfere with police business”. If it was a legitimate safety effort, he may be technically in the right, but really doing more harm than good, which will ultimately result in more stupid laws on the books. Who wants that?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Devil's advocate

Ok how about a better more effective plan. What if the police went out in pairs and parked marked cars along the side of the road and periodically moving them around the city to different places as if they were running a speed trap but rather leaving them there unattended for a few hours at a time at each location. When people see the car, not knowing that it is unattended, they will slow down. Mission accomplished. Note that while these don’t generate income for the city, these cars will not need to be fine tuned, high performance pursuit machines capable of chasing down a fleeing suspect. They also will not have to be outfitted with expensive high tech radar gadgetry or even working flashing lights. They can be bare bones transportation simply painted to resemble an normal patrol car saving quite a bit on the cost of this endeavor. Furthermore, these cars can be left at their locations by employees that don’t require a full officer’s training as they will never actually interact with citizens or suspects. That would then free up all the other trained officers to actually work on cases where there are actual violent crimes. You cut the cost meanwhile maintaining the effectiveness of the actions to achieve the goal. Oh wait, I forgot. They don’t make the money that way. Nevermind.

ltlw0lf (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Devil's advocate

Actually, plenty of police agencies do this already and find it effective to some extent. But it has to be paired with actual enforcement obviously.

In So. Cal., PDs use speed carts and electronic speed radar signs to do the same thing with varying success. People still speed by them, but most people do slow down. Supposedly the carts in our city have cameras, but they aren’t actually used for enforcement, but to protect the carts. A couple new carts actually have flashing blue and red lights which blink when the car goes too fast by the cart, but I noticed that they removed them after a couple times I saw them, probably because of the distraction and/or the legal issues surrounding red lights on vehicles not complying with the CVC.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Devil's advocate

Getting tickets/fines/points tends to make a difference for a longer time.

Is this actually true? I’m not saying that it isn’t, but the habitual speeders I know certainly aren’t deterred from speeding by tickets/fines/points. The get mad about them, but their behavior doesn’t change.

Where it could make a difference is with people who are speeding due to carelessness — but those people would be just as “deterred” by the guy holding the sign warning of speed traps.

Or, equally, by those “Your speed is…” radar signs.

Detch (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Devil's advocate

It won’t help in Siskiyou County. I just went to court over being ticketed for 63 in a 65 zone going uphill in heavy traffic on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. True, I prevailed in court but the cost of trying to get this done seriously harmed me financially, even though I am supposed to get my bail money back. I am trying to work with California legislators to remove the financial incentive for this folly, and the trivia associated with these small town revenue centers known as traffic courts.

Anonymous Coward says:

“An empty marked police car will have the same effect”

They used to do this along a busy expressway on my way to work. Needless to say, the presence of this empty car caused people to slow down resulting in a traffic jam at this particular point every day during the rush hours. It was there every day for more than a week. One morning there were three Dunkin Donuts boxes sitting on the hood of the car. Hilarious to say the least. The next day the car was gone and in-coincidentally, so were the traffic jams.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

The problem is that technically all that money gets dumped into the big nebulous city fund with property taxes and everything else and what they receive back is paid back out of the same fund in the city budget. So technically the police department doesn’t keep it. They give it to the city and then the city pays them.

Anonymous Coward says:

Mrozinski' tinted windows

“and government officials are likely exempt either by the law or by professional courtesy.”

I would suspect that in this very case is not. Since the victim (Mr Ron Martin) has to spend his time on case anyway, he should pull Mr Mrozinski’s home address from public records and issue him personal citation on his own. And not only for that, but two dozen other violations he did in the process (false report/official misconduct etc). And keep building 42 USC 1983 ironclad case. After all, Mr Mrozinski decided to go against the traffic on a two-way legal street.

Detch (profile) says:

Stopping this!

I have been researching this very thing and the most powerful tool that we have is our right to redress grievances and demand legislation. I read how two states addressed this folly by demanding that all traffic fines within 20% of the posted legal speed or any other infraction except those related to actual property damage, or aggravated violations like DUI go to the State’s general fund, but the counties have to foot the bills for traffic court. It seriously re-oriented the work of the police in those states, and the crime rates related to drugs, property and especially crimes against persons dropped dramatically.

Gang presence is severely diminished in these states, as are a variety of other serious crimes. So removing the economic incentive for ridiculous citations – like the woman yesterday in court who was fined for not wearing her seat belt because she moved her car 20 feet from the gas pump without it on – go away. The public has much more trust in its government and visitors are not terrorized about driving in the area.

Getting the attention of legislators and making them realize that this is good legislative practice is the difficult part, but the people in those states did it at a grass-roots level, did the petitions, got it on the ballots and the response was overwhelming. The cops can still ticket for under 20% but their counties and cities do not benefit from the fines. It makes a huge difference, and even enriches the states for worthwhile things like wildfire fighting.

free american man says:

the state governments are violating our natural inherited rights protected by the constitution

Its time for us americans who are free men and women with the right to live free with our liberties and to persue happiness this is a violation of our rights as well as his arrest was a violation of his rights by the constitution of the United states. Further more the police have no power or jurisdiction over us if we are just using the public roadways for personal travel we have the right to free travel no drivers license is required of us to travel on the public roads!!!!!!

none says:

The biggest farce

The real problem is that police have convinced the general public that they are giving out tickets to protect them. There have been numerous studies from the Department of Transportation’s traffic engineers that concludes low speed limits cause more speeding and more accidents.

Police rely on everyone’s fear, ignorance and ego (every driver is terrible except me!) to continue their revenue generation. Admitting the problem is the first step.

Some Bloke says:

What if there were a law that said fines collected by the police or the courts must always go toward restitution to the victim, unless that victim is the police or courts itself, as the government is never allowed to keep fine money? Seems that the conflict of interest and incentive to write specious tickets goes away… And yet, I’ve never heard anyone else propose this, especially not someone in law enforcement… Curious…

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