Arrests for Minor Infractions a Huge Source of Revenue for Local Governments

When two officers were ambushed and killed in Brooklyn, New York on December 20, 2014, tensions were already high in New York City. Protests were happening in the city as part of the Black Lives Matter movement that had spread across the nation from Ferguson, Missouri. A week before the murders of Officer Ramos and Officer Liu, a grand jury had failed to indict the officer captured on video holding Eric Garner on the ground in a chokehold as he died. In the aftermath of the announcement, Mayor Bill De Blasio acknowledged that it was not the outcome many had hoped and called for calm.

Police officers, however, took the Mayor’s understanding of protestors’ concerns as a condemnation of law enforcement. In the highly emotional aftermath of the death of the officers, police union officials blamed the protestors and the Mayor. In the following weeks, police officers held their own protests. They turned their backs on the Mayor when he paid his respects to the officers’ families at the hospital, as well as when he spoke at their funerals. When the cameras were gone, they continued their protests in a much quieter way: They simply stopped policing.

In the two weeks after the funerals of the slain officers, there was a noticeable slowdown in enforcement of low level crimes. While the police union and officers claimed there was no official work stoppage, the numbers showed a different story. There was a 93 percent drop in the number of parking tickets issued, as well as 93 percent decline in summonses. Arrests for minor infractions such as trespassing had dropped by 61 percent. This trickled into other areas of the justice system, such as arraignment courts having fewer cases and jails reporting as much as 2,000 fewer inmates in the same period.

At the same time, there was no increase in reported serious crimes, with criminal arrests remaining about the same.

While the Ferguson protests across the nation have largely been about police brutality against the minority community, the discussion is also about the over policing of these communities. One of the major complaints in the aftermath of the Ferguson protests was how black residents were more likely to be stopped and arrested, and therefore disproportionately burdened with the fines and fees that resulted. Part of revenue projections for the city included a certain level of court fees and fines from these arrests. A report last year by NPR showed that there has been an astronomical increase since the 1980s in the amount of fines and fees that people have to pay after being ticketed or arrested. These can end up costing people hundreds to tens of thousands of dollars. The people most likely to be fined are minorities and poor.

The unofficial slowdown in New York City showed just how crucial those fees are to cities’ budgets.

A 2013 report by TicketZen, a company that with an app for mobile payments of parking tickets, estimated that New York City collected nearly $600 million in parking fines. The top six cities on the list, all large metropolitan areas, had estimated parking revenue of over $1 billion combined. That’s just for parking tickets. Criminal arrests that lead to jail have other associated costs, such as fees for getting out of jail or staying in jail (yes, inmates are charged room and board in some states). All of this is before there is even a trial – if there is one at all.

This is also why true law enforcement reform is much more difficult and complicated to achieve.

Mayor De Blasio is one of the most progressive leaders in the country. He ran on a platform of ending programs like Stop and Frisk and other forms of over policing. Initial numbers of the unofficial slowdown show that stopping these practices does not increase the crime rate. However, in those same three weeks, it is estimated that New York City lost more than $10 million per week just in ticket revenue. When considering the corresponding losses in moving violations, summonses and court fees, the amount is much, much more. In an era in which serious crime has been on a consistent decline for the past decade, having a large police force has to be justified in other ways — such as increasing the city’s coffers.

As a response to the NYPD slowdown, reports surfaced that unless the numbers for low level infractions started increasing, requests for vacations and transfers were “unofficially” stopped. By the end of the week, summonses and tickets had more than quadrupled from the previous week. While Police Commissioner Bill Bratton claimed there was no quota of tickets that officers had to issue, he said the early numbers showed they were heading in the right direction.

This week, Commissioner Bratton announced plans to redeploy officers to improve police-community relations. The plan will have more officers on steady patrol in certain areas and focus on community policing, while others would be responsible for responding to calls across the city. He also said they are stepping up their “counter-terrorism” efforts with a force of 350 officers who will patrol the city, carrying rifles and machine guns. Bratton has a request into the Mayor’s office for an additional increase of more than 1,000 officers on the force.

Photo credit: Thinkstock

92 comments

Jim Ven
Jim Ven3 years ago

thanks for the article.

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Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus4 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Nikki Davey
Nikki Davey4 years ago

Too much hype, not enough calm and reason.

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Brian F.
Brian F4 years ago

The police are the real criminals, who bully, brutalize and kill people, and get away with it. Petty traffic offenses are just used by the police to steal money from the poor, and get revenue. Crime is down, and yet America incarcerates more people for money than any other nation. The for profit prison industry is an 80 billion dollar a year slave industry. Every police officer who refuses to acknowledge that the Michael Brown, and Eric Garner murders by the police, along with countless other murders, of innocent people, by the police, across the country, deserve a trial, should be fired. These crooks in blue make too much money, anyway, and our a large drain on our taxes.

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Fi T.
Past Member 4 years ago

Make good use of resources

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Deborah W.
Deborah W4 years ago

No minor infractions no need to detain. If each side held up their end of the bargain this problem would cancel itself out.

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Rhonda B.
Rhonda B4 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Sheyna P.
Past Member 4 years ago

Also, arrests for minor infractions reduce the number of....major infractions! Remember that when your home isn't invaded and you aren't shot to death.
And if you still think the U.S. is police state, move to Russia, or North Korea, or China......

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Michael de Swardt

The US is a police state ! In the US you are are guilty until found innocent. Prisons are financial hubs and obtains huge amounts of money from prisoners and their families. A prisoner needs to pay for everything except food made by the prison. Toiletries and almost everything else is not free and quite expensive. ICE, for instance, is given an annual expense budget and has to find people, guilty or not, to put in prisons. Once the annual prison "intake" has been obtained then the officials can relax and the search for inmates is relaxed.

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Linda Kristensen
Linda K4 years ago

This merging of justice and commercialism is baffling to other countries.

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