Police Ticket Quotas as a Revenue Source

August 5, 2013

Reason TV recently released a rather persuasive video on the effect of police quotas on civil liberties. It tells the story of Auburn police officer Justin Hanners, who saw the new quota imposed in Auburn, Alabama as antithetical to why he joined the police in the first place. It’s worth a watch:

One of the more common arguments you’ll hear from quota supporters is that quotas are designed to bring in revenue to keep local taxes (usually property taxes) down. But while keeping moderate tax burdens is important, quotas change the very essence of the relationship between citizens and the government.

Government levies come in three major types: taxes, fees, and penalties. Taxes are different from fees in that their revenue is used for general government functions. Fees, by contrast, are extracted in exchange for a service that directly benefits the person that pays them (think of tolls that pay for roads). Penalties like speeding tickets and other police punishments are different from taxes and fees in that their primary purpose is to discourage behavior. I would go so far as to say that the fact that they happen to collect revenue is tangential. Taxes and fees are for funding government, penalties are for keeping order.

Instead of a broad-based tax system where people pay taxes in rough proportion to the benefits they get from government services, setting a requirement of revenue gathered from penalties creates a system where police authorities are incentivized to seek out ever more infractions and discouraged from practicing good judgment. Officer Hanners points out that the Auburn quota made for a police force that made “72,000 [police] contacts [per] year in like a 50,000 person town.” As Huffington Post journalist Radley Balko puts it in the video, "You have a policy that encourages police to create petty crimes and ignore serious crimes, and that's clearly the opposite of what we want our police to be doing.”

Related: Taxes, fees, and penalties in the Obamacare decision.

Follow Scott on Twitter.

Was this page helpful to you?

No

Thank You!

The Tax Foundation works hard to provide insightful tax policy analysis. Our work depends on support from members of the public like you. Would you consider contributing to our work?

Contribute to the Tax Foundation

Topics


Related Articles