The Georgia city of Doraville is being sued by resident Hilda Brucker and the public-interest law firm Institute for Justice.
Brucker’s suit followed a trip to municipal court in response to a call she received from the city regarding a ticket. Upon arriving, she was brought before a judge and prosecutor, fined $100, and sentenced to six months’ criminal probation. Her crime? Having cracks in her driveway pavement, which no one asked her to fix.
In a similar vein, Doraville resident Jeff Thornton was served with an arrest warrant and fined $1,000 for keeping non-conforming wood logs stacked in his yard for his woodworking hobby and other uses.
Unfortunately for Doraville residents, the city has developed a reputation in the region for excessive issuance of traffic tickets and fines. A local newspaper reported that the city is home to “one of the most aggressive police forces” in Georgia, and notes they collect more fines per capita than anywhere in the metro Atlanta area.
The harassment isn’t confined to residents. Doraville is also known as one of the worst speed traps in the state, with city police averaging 40 tickets per day.
In its court filing, IJ contends that U.S. Supreme Court precedent makes it a violation of one’s constitutional rights “when prosecutors and law enforcement have a financial interest in convicting the defendant” for purposes of revenue generation.
“Cities should not task law enforcement with filling budget shortfalls through ticketing,” says Texas Public Policy Foundation’s Katie Greer. “This complicates an officer’s ability to achieve the goals of community policing and compromises the public’s ability to trust those who work to make them feel safe.”
The issue has been on the national radar as recently as 2015, when the Department of Justice issued a report examining policing practices in Ferguson, Missouri. That report revealed the ways local governments like Ferguson end up dependent on court fines and fees for trivial offenses.
Law enforcement should never be used as a collection agency. Local officials should instead use better budgeting practices to prevent shortfalls from being filled via questionable law enforcement policies.