In a recent Forbes opinion piece, Texas Public Policy Foundation’s Vice President of National Initiatives, Chuck DeVore, compiled a list of police revenue collections by major cities. By examining the often overlooked revenue streams (fines, fees, and forfeitures), DeVore was able to point out a growing trend of municipalities relying on these additional funds.
For his purposes, DeVore examined data for the 67 largest cities, but for our purposes we’re going to use his data to look at the Texas cities on the list. Using 2013 census data, DeVore took police-related collections and adjusted for cost of living in the various metro areas and not only was the nationwide spread shocking, but within Texas the fees varied wildly.
When adjusted for cost of living, Plano had the highest per person law enforcement-related fines, fees, and forfeitures at $40.13 per resident. San Antonio, however, had the lowest at only $6.16 per resident. While San Antonio was significantly lower, by half, from its nearest competitor, it still wasn’t as low as some places like Charlotte, North Carolina which collects $0.21 per capita.
DeVore investigated why many North Carolina cities had the lowest per capita collection rates and found that, “North Carolina’s constitution acts to discourage municipal government from using law enforcement as revenue agents,” primarily by preventing them from keeping the money.
Redirecting the money acts as a deterrent from excessive fines, fees, and forfeitures. DeVore noted that North Carolina’s court system directs all justice-related “revenue” to the state, rather than the local entity that collected it.
Very seldom do the fines assessed promote public safety, instead they’re used to shore up law enforcement budgets.
While such a process may seem advantageous for taxpayers it comes at a cost to citizens. The reliance on fees and fines to fund police departments devalues the purpose of police and further strains their relationships with the communities they work with.
It would be worthwhile for Texas lawmakers to consider legislation that would redirect these policing-related fees, fines, and forfeitures away from the accounts of local entities. Civil asset forfeiture reformers have called for collections to go to a state general fund to be used for educational purposes, but even that – if left unchecked – could become problematic.
One thing is for sure, it’s in the best interest of property owners for lawmakers to dis-incentivize this behavior by breaking the cycle of justice-related fines being directly returned to the collecting entity.