To the extent that police focus on revenue collection through fee and fine enforcement and civil asset forfeiture — a practice often dubbed "policing for profit," particularly when the funds are built into departmental or city budget plans — they solve fewer crimes, study results published Monday at The Washington Post show.
A trio of researchers compared Census Bureau data on municipal revenue collection with information from the FBI's Uniform Crime Reporting Program. After examining two years of data for 6,000 cities, they found police in cities that rely on fines for revenue crack significantly fewer cases.
The numbers are dramatic. In a hypothetical average city, if 1 percent of municipal revenue comes from fees, fines, and forfeitures, this model predicts the police department would solve 58 percent of violent crimes and 32 percent of property crimes. But if 3 percent of the revenue is collected this way, only 41 percent of violent crimes and 16 percent of property crimes would be solved.
Thus, the Post report summarizes, "cities where police are collecting revenue, communities are at once overpoliced — because they are charged with more fines and fees — and underpoliced — because serious crimes in their areas are less likely to be solved."
A 2013 study of towns in Arkansas, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, and Mississippi found some municipal governments get more revenue from fines than from taxes. In a particularly egregious case, Henderson, Louisiana, obtained about $3.73 from fees, fines, and forfeitures for every $1 it collected in taxes. Other cities and towns across the country are increasingly relying on this sort of revenue collection to increase budgets without a formal tax hike. Bonnie Kristian