Post Classifieds

Suspicions Confirmed?

By Robert Patton
On December 8, 2011

A number of years ago, I was driving through a small Southern town when I was forced to stop by a man standing in the road. It turned out he was selling peanut brittle. I didn't want any and was a little annoyed that I'd been stopped by a peddler. But he didn't give up, "It's real good and good for ya," he said in a rich Southern drawl.  Then he gave me a knowing look and fired the close: "It could even save ya a traffic ticket."

I didn't buy the peanut brittle but I did spend the next few miles shifting my eyes back and forth from the speedometer to my rear view mirror, half expecting to see the flashing lights of a police cruiser closing in to punish me for failing to support the local economy.

The fact that I half believed the threat is evidence that I had been influenced by the idea that police are out to make money, that they have a quota to fill. We've all heard these stories and police and local governments throughout the country have always vehemently denied the charge.

George Hacking, who heads Public Safety at Lyndon State College served for many years on the Vermont State Police.  Once in a while, he recalls, if you pulled someone over near the end of the month, they would  suggest that the stop is because the officer needs to fill his monthly quota. But during his entire career, no one ever suggested to him or anyone else he knew that they should write more tickets.

But the week before last, the village of Lyndonville broke new ground by publicly announcing that the Town's three-man force had only issued a fifth of the tickets called for on the Town budget. To publicly state that the law would be used to extract money from unsuspecting visitors and locals, would seem to be highly unethical if not actually illegal.

Some students of Lyndon State College have already experienced the new policy and we wanted to know what the local police chief thought about. So we sat down with him and listened to what he had to say.

To start with, Chief Jack Harris was never consulted; he learned about the new policy only after it was announced to the press.  Several years ago, when he moved up from Connecticut to take the job in Lyndonville, he and the town had an understanding that what was wanted was community-based policing. Since then Harris has tried his best to do just that and feels he has succeeded. It has been department policy for years to issue warnings on a driver's first offence in town. The idea is to get people to drive safely, to make the town a safer place to live, not to extract revenue. Now Harris has been ordered by his municipal bosses to shift gears and bring in cash.

But how is it possible that the Village could have budgeted five times the revenue that this year's traffic violations have generated? Has the three-man force dramatically relaxed enforcement efforts? Not at all. Harris explains that this year's budget had an incremental increase. The idea, presumably, is that we should do a little better this year than last. But that still doesn't explain the demand for a massive increase of 500% in traffic and parking ticket revenues.

But last year's revenues included substantial federal grant funds. Those funds are no longer available. What to do? Simple, make up the difference by issuing five times as many traffic tickets. Sounds like a fifth-grade arithmetic problem, doesn't it?

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