Fines

A Tiny Alabama Town Is Growing Its Police Force by Fining Everybody in Sight

Brookside officers have been accused of fabricating violations and are being sued.

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Brookside, Alabama, has a population of less than 1,500 people. For most of the past decade it saw little crime—only 55 major crimes in eight years, none homicide or rape.

But in the past couple of years, the tiny town has generated an outsized police force, and today the Birmingham News reports why. The mayor and police force there are looking to fine anybody they can to bring in revenue.

Birmingham News columnist John Archibald reports, "In a two-year period between 2018 and 2020 Brookside revenues from fines and forfeitures soared more than 640 percent and now make up half the city's total income." According to the records Archibald reviewed, Brookside as of 2020 was arresting more people for misdemeanors than it has residents. The police there fine so many people that they have to direct traffic around town hall for the monthly municipal court because there are so many people there trying to contest the charges against them.

Revenue into the town jumped from $431,637 in 2016 to $1,233,469 in 2020. That jump wasn't from tax receipts. The only commercial taxes generated in Brookside are from a single Dollar General store. The town raked in $610,000 in fines and forfeitures (from seizures of cars in traffic stops). Not only is half its budget coming from fining travelers, the amount the police are bringing in is more than its entire revenue stream just five years ago.

If the idea that a former mining town a few miles north of Birmingham is a hotbed of speeders and reckless drivers seems more than a bit suspect, a read through the cases Archibald describes shows exactly what you might expect. The police there are looking for any reason they can find to pull people over and cite them:

Brookside officers have been accused in lawsuits of fabricating charges, using racist language and "making up laws" to stack counts on passersby. Defendants must pay thousands in fines and fees—or pay for costly appeals to state court—and poorer residents or passersby fall into patterns of debt they cannot easily escape.

Archibald reports the terrible tale of Rev. Vincent Witt, who was pulled over at a stop sign in Brookside by a cop because he had a paper tag. Witt's car was a new purchase, and the tag was legitimate. Witt says he asked if Brookside pulled everybody over like this and says the police officer called him a racial slur and told him to stay out of the town.

Witt called the police department to file a complaint and was told he would have to do so in person. Then things turned bizarre. Witt and his sister (who was not even in the car with him) were subsequently charged with impersonating police officers. Brookside put their pictures up on their Facebook page, and web site Crime Stoppers featured their photos as suspects. The case was eventually dropped after damaging the Witts' reputation.

Witt and his sister have sued in federal court for malicious prosecution. Brookside has claimed that the officers involved are entitled to qualified immunity from the lawsuit. As perhaps an indicator of how big the problem is in Brookside, District Court Judge Abdul Kallon for the United States District Court for the Northern District of Alabama only allowed immunity for the stop itself.  He ruled that the "bizarre" police behavior afterward was not protected. "Given the alleged and, truthfully, bizarre conduct—issuing and approving fabricated charges against Pastor Witt and Ms. Witt for impersonating police officers, without probable cause, and publicizing the charges on Facebook and Crime Stoppers in retaliation for Pastor Witt's complaint—the court is unconvinced that [the officers] are entitled to qualified immunity."

Alabama police have significant incentives to engage in forfeiture. In the latest state-by-state analysis of civil asset forfeiture by the Institute for Justice, Alabama gets a D- grade for its forfeiture laws. The state doesn't track or report forfeiture spending; the threshold for police to claim the property by saying it's connected to a crime is much lower than the threshold to actually convict somebody of a crime; and they get to keep 100 percent of what they seize. People who are caught up in forfeiture attempts are forced to prove they aren't criminals in order to get the property back, turning the concept of presumed innocence on its head.

Brookside is certainly a case study in the lack of accountability for police funding and spending. The police chief and mayor told Archibald they don't even know how the money from the fines has been spent. The town doesn't even have a formal budgeting process. But as the fines rolled in, funding for police skyrocketed 560 percent. The fines were being used to pay for police officers, who then needed to keep finding people to fine to keep getting paid.

If anything Witt was lucky they didn't try to seize his new car.

We'll end with this incredible and telling quote from Brookside's police chief, Mike Jones, who really does not see a problem here at all and thinks funding his town with fines is a "positive story."

"I see a 600% increase—that's a failure," Jones told Archibald. "If you had more officers and more productivity you'd have more. I think it could be more."

NEXT: Cops With Super Sniffers Fool No One Except the Judge

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  1. The thin blue crimson line.

    1. Green, I think, the color of money.

  2. "A Tiny Alabama Town Is Growing Its Police Force by Fining Everybody in Sight"

    They learned this behavior from Biden/Pelosi/Schumer, who ordered the arrest, incarceration (often in solitary confinement) and prosecution of thousands of Republicans who supported Trump supporters on Jan 6, 2021 at the US Capitol (even though Ray Epps and a half dozen other coconspirators organized and executed the breach of the Capitol Grounds, removed the police barriers, breached the Capitol building, and urged/corralled naive Trump supporters to illegally enter the Capitol Grounds and the Capitol building using identical bullhorns).

    Meanwhile, Ray Epps and his coconspirators who actually planned and executed the Capitol breach haven't been charged with any crimes after entire year (likely because they were/are FBI agents or informants who Pelosi has been protecting).

    So why won't Reason (or other left wing media propagandists) write even one article about the Capitol breach on Jan 6?

    1. Reason readers who want truthful information about the events at and near the US Capitol on Jan 6, 2021 can go to:
      https://www.revolver.news/2022/01/the-essential-revolver-news-january-6-reading-list/

    2. I'm sure they could write an article but it wouldn't line up with the fantasy you've conjured up in your mind.

      1. You’re the one with all the bullshit notions. Which is why you’re a democrat.

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    3. Nazis, we say, poor dissolute uncovered wretches, sez we. Whin th’ crool hand iv Versailles and 14A forged man’cles f’r ye’er limbs, who was it crossed parthy lines an’ sthruck th’ bargain to giv Limonade Lucy an' Hayes th' whips 'n guns iv prohibishun? Th' dimmy-crats, did, by dad! An’ now, ye mis’rable, childish-minded Trumpanzees™, we Lib'rtarryuns propose f’r to larn ye th’ uses iv liberty. ’Tis not f’r youse wretched an’ degraded crathers, without a mind or a shirt iv yer own, f’r to give lessons in back-stabbin' an' Reichstag-roastin' to us!

  3. urban/southern/mid-Atlantic Democrats are gonna urban/southern/mid-Atlantic Democrat.

    1. Don't you ever get tired of being a butt boy for an intellectually and morally bankrupt political party?

      1. Intellectually bankrupt party - inject money into a situation where supply has been curtailed and don't expect inflation.

        Morally bankrupt party - arrest parents for voicing concerns about their children's education and then label them terrorists.

        1. Yes, that is a good demonstration of the Republican intellectual vacuum state.

          It's almost comforting knowing that all the things you are worried about are not actually real things.

      2. Speaking of intellectually and morally bankrupt, did you just try to insult me by calling me a butt boy?

        1. Only for which psychopathic liars you opt to drop your underoos for.

      3. Got some lubricating coconut oil with that slick insult?

      4. Tony does mirror soliloquies? How adorably onanistic and narcissistic!

  4. If you had more officers and more productivity you'd have more. I think it could be more."

    Two words: Unvaxxed penaltax

  5. Said, "What about Alabama that keeps a-coming back to me?"
    I heard your plea in the courthouse
    Witness box began to rock and rise
    Forty-nine sister states had Alabama in their eyes
    Run, run!
    Alabama getaway, getaway

  6. Failure? As long as there is proper diversity in the police force, this is a rousing success as a jobs program.

  7. "Tail light's out." Walking Tall.

    Some things never change.

    1. Except in both iterations the character of Pusser was defrauded, attacked, and denied petitions for justice before "initiating" aggress... nevermind.

    2. "License plate light too dim... Please stand on yer right laig and touch yer nose with your left pinkie fanger, ma'am."
      "Right-turn indicator blinking too slowly... You inna heap 'o trouble, Barbie!"
      "Yew care to make a donation toward our George Wallace Memorial gibbet?"

  8. I got a ticket in the mail from the fine folks in Brantley, AL after the boy took one of our cars on spring break. They change the speed at the bottom of a long hill from 55 to 35 and churn out thousands of speed photo tickets every year. Looked it up on the Intertubes and everything. At least they sent a photo that had the alleged speed recorded. Not much to do but pay it and remember to avoid Brantley next time if possible. Hope it went to a good cause, but I know that's just crazy talk.

    1. If I got a ticket, I’d pay it with a note that I’d like the town to return my money with an apology, or else I’d hire a crew to direct traffic around the town for a month.

      Nothing they can do if my crew stands outside town limits.

      1. Of course they can: you'd be cited for interfering with interstate commerce.

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  10. When did Hazzard County get moved to Alabama?

  11. Why are these people not in jail for theft, official corruption and any other number f charges. There was a little town in Texas, Levon, that was a notorious speed trap. They were racking in 97% of there budget from “speeding tickets” (the limit would drop from 55 to 25 in about 30 feet) on people driving thru. Some 95% of that revenue supported only the police. The ultimate self licking lollipop. The state had to step in and passed a law that 80% of all fines got to the state treasury. They could no longer pay their police force and disbanded it.

    1. Make paragraphs.

      You’re on point, but that’s two separate ideas.

    2. A very good start. Texas also limits a what percentage of a city's budget can come from fines and, although I am not sure if this is state or federal, a ban on any sort of quotas for officers.

      Still, as far as I am concerned, that is nowhere near far enough.

      I am of the opinion that cites, counties (parishes), states, and the federal government should not be able to subsidize their income through fines of any sort. Taxation and "services rendered" should be the only means of income.

      Fines and penalties of all types should be redirected to non-profit organizations. Ideally, these funds would at least be tangentially linked to the type of fine be issued. Some examples might be traffic fines going to non-profits like MAD, a highway beatification org, or a program who works to get impoverished kids into CDL programs.

      Anytime you give any entity both the power to fine AND the ability to spend the monies from that fine, you have a major conflict of interest that will get exploited.

      1. The issue is that non profit isn't exactly guaranteed not to be a concern which does not funnel money right back to the same people creating the policy.

        Any fines should simply state revenue and only be allowed to fund drug programs, mental health, and combat homelessness

        The only means to stop the fines is to remove the money from where it is taken

  12. Nuke 'em.

  13. I'm told that local rule is far superior to federal meddling for reasons. I wonder, does this exclude federal courts as well? Just how much local wisdom should we permit to be completely off-limits to federal checks in these fine hamlets?

    1. Ruling is bad everywhere. Government is to be our servant not our master.

      1. Depends on how you define "our," I suppose. I'm usually the one defending self-rule against you people.

    2. Tony your points fail for the same reason as your wardrobe: Old, out-dated and doesn't fit what your trying to put it around.

      1. But enough about my vintage cock sock.

    3. Screw that speech thing it's like federal and stuff.

    4. I'm told that local rule is far superior to federal meddling for reasons.

      I'm told that Tony isn't really a brain dead eunuch because reasons.

    5. Remember the Corporate-approved teevee show where the redneck deputy and lardass sheriff stop and jail a man and woman for no reason? Then after paying undisguised extortion to the gloating pigs they drive off with the closing comment: "We sure do have some unusual experiences in our asignments as Criminal Investigators for the Federal Department of Justice." Tony's mom must've watched reruns of that show.

      1. The highest level of law enforcement that's ever interfered with my freedom is county.

  14. Looks as if we have a budding Phenix City, Alabama or Ludowici, Georgia here.

  15. Alabama should pass a law that says something like after the first $1,000 in fines and fees are collected, the rest goes to the state to use (energy fund, schools, healthcare for prisoners, throw it out of helicopters)

  16. There is a chromatic disconnect between the armed Alabammy redneck looter and the victim at the wheel. Is the blonde by any chance pregnant? Was she playing a Beatles song on the stereo? Is there a McGovern sticker hidden behind Deppity Dunce' paunch?

  17. There was an almost identical situation with a small town in Ohio about 15 years ago if I remember correctly. The state repeatedly asked them to knock it off, but the town refused. The state eventually solved the problem by revoking the charter of the town and disincorporating it. The mayor was relieved of duty and both the town council and police department were dissolved. The whole area reverted back to county control.

    1. Oh, I should have read all the comments. I brought this exact same one up.

  18. Ugh, we in Florida had similar issues in Waldo, and Lawtey, south and north of Starke, respectively. The state stepped in and forced Waldo to disband its police department.

  19. We had one of these municipalities in Ohio in the Columbus area: "New Rome" It was nortorious. It had like 1000 feet on a major road. FInally, someone got elected with like 15 votes (total, not many residents), and reformed it. The legislature also changed some laws to stop this in the future. Additionally, the municipality was disbanded and absorbed back into the township (Ohio townships are not just a measure of land, but a local gevernment).

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