Alabama Town Has 1,253 People, Nine Cops, And Generates $600,000 A Year From Traffic Stops

from the treating-drivers-like-ATMs dept

Small towns strapped for cash sometimes decide to use their law enforcement agencies to generate a steadily increasing revenue stream. Towns that otherwise would never have been noticed by non-residents have achieved national notoriety by unofficially rebranding as Speed Trap, USA.

Sometimes this notoriety leads to punishment by other government agencies. A small town in Oklahoma was banned from enforcing traffic laws by the state’s Department of Safety after it came to light the town of 410 people was employing six police officers to haul in nearly $500,000 in fees in a single year — 76% of the town’s revenue.

Another small town is generating some national press about its abusive traffic enforcement operations. Brookside, Alabama has only 1,253 residents. But it has nine police officers, two drug dogs (including one named “Cash”), a mine-resistant SWAT vehicle obtained through the Defense Department’s 1033 program, and an unquenchable thirst for traffic enforcement revenue.

In the last couple of years — under Chief Mike Jones (who was hired in 2018 and was then the town’s only sworn officer) — Brookside’s revenue has increased exponentially. Update: Following this controversy, Jones announced his resignation.

Police stops soared between 2018 and 2020. Fines and forfeitures – seizures of cars during traffic stops, among other things – doubled from 2018 to 2019. In 2020 they came to $610,000. That’s 49% of the small town’s skyrocketing revenue.

But the chief seems disappointed with this haul.

“I see a 600% increase – that’s a failure. If you had more officers and more productivity you’d have more,” Jones said. “I think it could be more.”

Nearby law enforcement officials see Brookside and its traffic enforcement as a problem. A district attorney from a neighboring county calls Brookside a “black hole” where drivers and their vehicles (which are often towed immediately following a traffic stop) disappear into the town’s revenue generation machinery. A local sheriff says he’s received calls from drivers claiming to have been pulled over and ticketed by Brookside officers… despite being nowhere near the town.

Here are some more troubling stats:

The town with no traffic lights collected $487 in fines and forfeitures in 2020 for every man, woman and child, though many of those fined were merely passing by on I-22.

[…]

[P]olice in 2020 patrolled 114,438 miles in the 6.3-mile town and issued more than 3,000 citations – a 692% increase from 2018.

And the police department directly benefits from this enforcement-driven revenue increase.

From 2018 to 2020, spending on police rose from $79,000 to $524,000, a 560% increase. The town’s administrative expenditures rose 40% and overall spending jumped 112%, from $553,000 in 2018 to $1.2 million in 2020.

Even if this obscene amount of traffic enforcement was the only thing worth reporting, it would still be concerning. But Chief Jones’ department engages in other troubling, literally shady tactics while converting drivers to currency.

Chief Jones testified under oath that just one of the 10 Brookside vehicles is painted with police striping, but nine others bear no emblems, and seven are tinted all the way around, making it impossible to see inside. Jones testified his officers wear gray uniforms with no Brookside insignias.

Unmarked cars. Unmarked officers. All deployed in search of presumably unmarked bills. And they’ve been emboldened by Chief Jones’ cash-oriented efforts, which has led to officers engaging in abusive behavior that goes beyond the abuse of petty (or imagined) traffic crimes to extract cash and seize vehicles.

Brookside officers have been accused in lawsuits of fabricating charges, using racist language and “making up laws” to stack counts on passersby.

The best time to drive through (or near) Brookside might be during its once-a-month court session, where officers are needed to route the considerable amount of traffic to parking areas and presumably others are tied up offering testimony.

This abuse of police power is generating legal activity. The AL.com report says the town and its PD now face no fewer than five lawsuits. Given the amount of money the department has extracted from Alabama residents, the legal war fund should be well-stocked. Unfortunately, this means those suing Brookside have already contributed to the town’s defense fund, albeit months in advance of their litigation.

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Comments on “Alabama Town Has 1,253 People, Nine Cops, And Generates $600,000 A Year From Traffic Stops”

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20 Comments
Paul B says:

Re: Its never RICO

This is more of a case for RICO. You have an entire town that has been taken over for the purpose of enforcing traffic violations and setting up a fine system that makes it very hard to appeal (fees start at 2x the fine).

This is truly a case of "The rich win, the poor pay" because they never show up to the appeals (its not worth the time).

This is a bunch of mobsters who are exploiting a loophole.

Anonymous Coward says:

This sort of thing has been going on forever, you just hear about it more now.

Back in the early 70s, there was a town in Georgia called Ludowici. You knew it was a speed trap town when you came in the city limits. All the city limit signs were not on the even 5’s they were like 54mph or 34 mph. The last one in downtown of this small town, was hidden behind the telephone pole at the red light intersection, marked at 24 mph. All the legal system from the police officers, the jailers, the judges, and the lawyers were all kin.

The reports coming out were of theft after vehicle confiscation, unwarranted tickets, bad court rulings, and on and on. It got so bad, the state governor at the time put up two huge interstate sized billboards warning travelers before they entered the town to beware of clip joints, false speeding tickets, and the like. That one got painted over mysteriously at night. So they had the sign redone, then stationed a state trooper under each. They eventually closed the racket down but not before so many got bilked.

A township in Florida, had it’s charter revoked from the state over speed traps.

Over and over again we see these sort of setups from small towns though out the nation, over get rich schemes for them.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Curious

You’d see the number of tickets drop to the single digits if not non-existent practically overnight.

Police should never have a financial link with their jobs beyond simple ‘are you showing up?’ and ‘are you doing the job as dictated by your superiors/job description?’, allowing them to profit the more ‘crimes’ they find just gives them incentive to ‘find’ as many as possible and in a job where the goal should be less crimes that’s quite the conflict of interest.

Anonymous Coward says:

This only works in Brookside because all the wealthy people live in the southern Birmingham suburbs of Mountain Brook, Homewood, Vestavia Hills, and Hoover. If they tried this shit in the wealthier burbs, the residents would be talking to their buddies on the city council and at the precinct about officer speed trap’s harassment.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Whoops, said the quiet part out loud there

“I see a 600% increase – that’s a failure. If you had more officers and more productivity you’d have more,” Jones said. “I think it could be more.”

The only reason they’re getting money is from accusing people of crimes and stealing their stuff, as a police chief they should be aiming to have a town with the least amount of crimes reasonably possible yet since that would mean less money for them and he’s bemoaning that they still aren’t making ‘enough’ that’s clearly not the aim.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

That thing we told them would happen when they made it legal to rob citizens… happened (yet again.)

Of course they are only pissed that this idiot drew to much attention & screwed it up for everyone else.

This chief is the PharmaBro of asset forfeiture.
They will punish this 1 dipshit, make some noise in the media, and quietly go back to padding budgets on the backs of people who’s only "crime" was being close enough to the hellmouth so the cops could rob them blind.

Federico (profile) says:

Expensive amateurs

This cash milking operation seems to be highly inefficient. In Italy, a municipality with 1000 inhabitants makes over 1 million euro a year with a single traffic enforcement camera placed on a busy road. No need to hire more police officers or check that they’re behaving fairly.

Source on Serravalle di Chienti: https://www.fanpage.it/attualita/il-record-del-paesino-marchigiano-mille-abitanti-e-un-milione-di-incasso-dalle-multe/ . (Another source states that two thirds of the municipalities do not report these revenues, so there might be some municipality which is even more efficient at milking car owners.)

Lostinlodos (profile) says:

You pay the price for breaking the law

I don’t know about creeping out of your town… that’s absolutely not right. Jurisdictional limits are important.
But speeding is speeding. Not signalling is not signalling. Etc.

Do the crime, pay the fine, or so the time.

PS: ignore above comment if this is a town that pulls over speeders with no speed limit signs in the whole fricking town.

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My Tikkit says:

I don’t know around inching out of your town… that’s completely not appropriate. Jurisdictional limits are important. But speeding is speeding. Not flagging isn’t flagging. Etc. Do the wrongdoing, pay the fine, or so the time. PS: disregard the comment in the event that this can be a town that pulls over speeders with no speed restrain signs within the entire fricking town view more on https://mytikkit.com/about-tikkit

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