Plenty of cities and towns operate speed traps as thinly disguised revenue generating schemes. But few cities come right out and say it. Paterson, New Jersey, with a population of about 146,000, has proposed a plan to generate $3 million in new annual revenue by increasing the number of traffic tickets it’s police department issues by about 80 per day. The plan also includes additional tax levies, new fees for certificates of occupancy for new construction, layoffs of 250 municipal employees, and $10 million in spending cuts.
At least one councilman, Kenneth Morris, questioned the legality of the city administration’s proposed highway robbery. “That sounds like something that’s akin to setting a quota,” Morris said. “What if no one breaks the law?”
If it moves forward with the plan, the city of Paterson wouldn’t be the only place in the nation that views its citizenry as a source of revenue. The New York Police Department allegedly has an unwritten “20 and 1” rule for officers. That is, NYPD officers are expected to write 20 tickets and make one arrest every month. In Ferguson, MO, police officers wrote a huge number of tickets, raising millions of dollars in revenue each year. This was certainly a part of the animosity that turned into widespread protests in the shooting of Michael Brown by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson. And federal, state and local law enforcement all collude to seize and keep cash using asset forfeiture powers granted under the war on drugs.
Maybe it’s appropriate that a city like Paterson openly admits to squeezing citizens for revenue. Paying the city more for permission to occupy a building and expanding the scope of traffic stops to shake down motorists for increasingly mundane and inconsequential “violations” at least shows us what government has become and maybe always was; a gang of thieves with badges and laws.