Policing for profit in Alabama
Every driver has a story about speed traps, the annoying spots on the road where cops seem to hand out speeding tickets like they were going out of style.
But then there are the other kid of speed traps – the ones of legend, that usually center on small towns that use tickets to balance their budgets, or, in the case of one small Alabama town, to indulge in a particularly gross variety of policing for profit:
Months of research and dozens of interviews by AL.com found that Brookside’s finances are rocket-fueled by tickets and aggressive policing. In a two-year period between 2018 and 2020 Brookside revenues from fines and forfeitures soared more than 640 percent and now make up half the city’s total income.
And the police chief has called for more.
The town of 1,253 just north of Birmingham reported just 55 serious crimes to the state in the entire eight year period between 2011 and 2018 – none of them homicide or rape. But in 2018 it began building a police empire, hiring more and more officers to blanket its six miles of roads and mile-and-a-half jurisdiction on Interstate 22.
By 2020 Brookside made more misdemeanor arrests than it has residents. It went from towing 50 vehicles in 2018 to 789 in 2020 – each carrying fines. That’s a 1,478% increase, with 1.7 tows for every household in town.
The growth has come with trouble to match. Brookside officers have been accused in lawsuits of fabricating charges, using racist language and “making up laws” to stack counts on passersby. Defendants must pay thousands in fines and fees – or pay for costly appeals to state court – and poorer residents or passersby fall into patterns of debt they cannot easily escape.
“Brookside is a poster child for policing for profit,” said Carla Crowder, the director of Alabama Appleseed Center for Law & Justice, a nonprofit devoted to justice and equity. “We are not safer because of it.”
There’s a lot more at the link, including this:
By 2020 officers in the sleepy town were undergoing SWAT training and dressing in riot gear, even as the city continued with only a volunteer fire department. It parked a riot control vehicle — townspeople call it a tank — outside the municipal complex and community center. Traffic tickets, and criminalizing those who passed through, became the city’s leading industry.
That’s not local government. It’s a racket.