Funding the Police — The Right Way and the Wrong Way

by | Jul 23, 2021 | Quick Facts

AlessandroPhoto iStock

Funding the Police — The Right Way and the Wrong Way

by | Jul 23, 2021 | Quick Facts

AlessandroPhoto iStock

Republished with permission from Governing.com, by Currie Myers

We’ve heard the calls from many to “defund the police” or to reduce law enforcement budgets as positive steps toward better policing. As a former elected sheriff, not only do I disagree that these types of “reforms” would do anything but harm public safety, but I also believe that they miss a key point on how police departments are currently funded and what needs to change about the budgetary process to see positive steps in policing across the country.

Public safety should be funded primarily through general appropriations. Yet hundreds of law enforcement agencies and local governments across the United States rely significantly on fines, fees and property forfeitures to fund their budgets, which has been and will continue to be a recipe for disaster. For many communities, this results in substantial fines, heavy parking citations, multiplying speed enforcement zones and over-investment in technology such as traffic cameras and license plate readers to collect even more revenue. In too many cases, citizens are incarcerated unnecessarily due to unpaid financial obligations and not because of criminal acts impacting public safety.

In a 2019 study, Governing conducted the largest analysis of fine revenues to date and found that fines and fees are a critical source of funding, accounting in some communities for more than half of all general revenues. This is especially true in lower-income communities with fewer resources and fewer tax dollars to pull traditional revenues from.

A concerning example of the pressure police face to collect their own revenue came from a Department of Justice investigation into the Ferguson, Mo., Police Department in the wake of the unrest that followed the fatal shooting of Michael Brown in 2014. The report concluded: “The city budgets for sizeable increases in municipal fines and fees each year, exhorts police and court staff to deliver those revenue increases and closely monitors whether those increases are achieved.” As the city’s finance director put it in a message to the police chief in 2010, Unless ticket writing ramps up significantly before the end of the year, it will be hard to significantly raise collections next year. … Given that we are looking at a substantial sales tax shortfall, it’s not an insignificant issue.”

This reliance also warps incentives and forces law enforcement to unnecessarily focus on these nonpublic safety endeavors. Research suggests that police departments that collect higher shares of their revenue from fines and fees solve both violent and property crime at significantly lower rates.

Using fines and fees collection to supplant police budgets also has a detrimental effect on the profession of law enforcement and can drive a wedge between police and their communities. A recent Institute for Justice survey found that individuals hit with citations have significantly lower levels of trust in government, including police. And a 2017 report from the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights shows that the doling out of fines and fees and their enforcement by police fall significantly upon low-income communities and those with higher percentages of African American and Latino populations.

Issuing citations and traffic enforcement serve as important functions of law enforcement. But we should not force interactions between police and their communities when revenue collection, and not public safety, is the primary focus. This leads to distrust of police and less cooperation from the community to solve crime, and it increases the tension of interactions between community members and law enforcement when someone owes money to the government and is fearful they could find themselves behind bars for their inability to pay. Police officers should be on the street enforcing the law, solving crime and helping their communities, not finding avenues to generate revenue from those they are sworn to protect.

State and local governments have a responsibility to back their police agencies so the relationships between their police and their communities are respected and transparent. Not funding them adequately and relying instead on other special revenue categories counters the hard work law enforcement does every day to gain citizens’ trust and respect. Elected officials should eliminate the supplanting of police budgets through fines, fees and forfeitures and instead fund essential public safety functions through general appropriations.

Currie Myers is the retired sheriff of Johnson County, Kan., and a member of the faculty in the Department of Sociology and Criminology at Benedictine College.

Governing Magazine

Governing Magazine

Governing: The Future of States and Localities takes on the question of what state and local government looks like in a world of rapidly advancing technology. Governing is a resource for elected and appointed officials and other public leaders who are looking for smart insights and a forum to better understand and manage through this era of change.

Related Articles

yellow and white square box
Sep 07 2021

Propaganda and the Fact-Free Cult

After the Civil War, a propaganda campaign was launched against the recently freed African-Americans. They were labeled animals, shiftless, lazy, dumb, poised to take a...
vaccinated in a covid hotspot
Jul 28 2021

Vaccinated and Living Responsibly in a Covid Hotspot

My wife and I have been fully vaccinated against Covid-19 for many months now. Since two weeks after that out last shot we have felt quite safe, even though as a...
fire at night
Jun 27 2021

Quick Facts: Lies Spread Faster than the Truth

In a study published in March of 2018, Science Magazine noted that lies spread at a far faster rate than true information on social media channels.
Mark and Patricia McCloskey
Jun 18 2021

Mark and Patricia McCloskey, Two Racist Assholes, Lose Their Guns

Mark and Patricia McCloskey, the St. Louis couple who waved firearms at Black Lives Matter protesters streaming passed their mansion last year have now pled guilty to...
Jun 14 2021

Trump’s Reinstatement Fantasy Generates Viral Fake Tickets

The Q-verse is a buzz with excitement with Trump’s fantasy reinstatement in office through some magical and undefined method.
Jun 11 2021

The Oregon Legislature Expels a Treasonous Member — Time for the US Congress to Do the Same

Oregon Republican Representative, Mike Nearman, was expelled from the legislature on a 59-1 vote. The only “no” vote was his.
Jun 04 2021

Facebook Has Spoken — Trump Banned for Two Years

Today Facebook issued a final decision on the length of the suspension of Donald Trump’s account in response to the admonishment in their Oversight Board’s...
May 26 2021

Steve Wynn Required to Register as a Foreign Agent, for China

Former casino mogul and former finance chair of the Republican Party, Steve Wynn, is about to be sued by the DOJ to force him to register as a foreign lobbyist.
May 24 2021

The Liz Cheney Reality Check

Don’t make the mistake that since Liz Cheney got removed from her leadership post for disagreeing with Trump means she actually disagrees with everything on the...
May 24 2021

Karma Time for Jason Miller — One of Trump’s “Best People”

A member of Trump’s “all the best people” squad, Jason Miller, was ordered to pay $42,000 in legal fees in response to his attempt to sue...

0 Comments

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Subscribe for Updates!

Subscribe for Updates!

Join our mailing list to receive the latest news and updates from our team.

You have Successfully Subscribed!

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This