Share this article
Michael Haugen | December 8, 2015
Last week at the Cato Institute, Americans for Tax Reform President and Right on Crime signatory Grover Norquist gave an address on several concerning aspects of modern American policing practices, an element of the criminal justice system that hasn’t received as much attention in recent months as have several reform bills currently making their way through Congress.
One such aspect that Norquist honed in on is the increasing tendency of cities to derive a substantial portion of their annual revenue from various and sundry citations or fines handed out by law enforcement agencies. According to Norquist, the city of Ferguson, MO, which experienced episodes of civil unrest and tension between citizens and police last year, had an operating budget in 2010 of approximately $11 million—one and half million of which came via tickets and fines. By 2014, the city’s budget had climbed to roughly $13 million, with the amount coming from citations and fines jumping to about $3 million.
In other words, the share of the city’s operating budget coming from parking tickets, traffic infractions, and other fines spiked from 12.7% to 23% in the space of four years.
As Norquist notes, there was even discussion among city officials of increasing police presence throughout the week—not necessarily for crime-fighting efforts, but to maximize revenue through levying of citations.
This sort of practice is problematic not simply because using law enforcement as a form of tax collection, as Norquist characterizes the practice, undermines the legitimacy of the profession, but also in that it sows the seeds of distrust between police and the citizenry they’re meant to serve.
To examine these practices of law enforcement—including civil forfeiture, use of deadly force, and others—Right on Crime is currently seeking a senior researcher to investigate how best to improve public safety through policing while securing liberty. Additional information can be found here.
The entirety of Norquist’s comments at the Cato Institute can be found below: