Tonawanda News

February 27, 2012

CONFER: Using the police as tax collectors


The Tonawanda News

— — America is unique in that most policing is done at the local level by county, city or village officers. In nearly all other countries, the police forces are managed by the national government. That approach affords Americans a greater sense of liberty than other societies, because our police are controlled by municipal governments and, therefore, the people — our Constitutional Republic in practice. Accordingly, our police are closer and more in tune to the people they are empowered to serve and protect than they would be were they to report to a higher, distant power less in tune with the needs of the residents and more intent on the maintenance of power than the maintenance of freedom. Because of that, we have far and away the most trusted peace officers on the planet.

But, that trust in the police can easily be ruined (and has been) by unsavory local governments that choose to abuse the police power that they posses. Rather than relying on their police departments to guarantee our liberties and ensure that no one infringes on the rights of others, they use the cops as nothing more than uniformed tax collectors. That is, they challenge them to over-police the minutiae of local code and thusly reap considerable revenues by issuing tickets galore.

Think about such locales as Middleport or North Tonawanda, where historically and even today, passers-by and motorists — not hardened criminals — are the primary targets, and it is not uncommon for so-called “speeders” to be ticketed for 2 miles over the speed limit in confusing speed zones such as the 45 to 40 switch on Route 31 in Middleport purposely created to induce speeding. Likewise, in the Lumber City, River Road saw its long-held 55 mph speed limit drop last year, so the city (and state) used the confused commuters — driving 55 by habit — as cash cows until the constant traffic stops reformed the masses.  

There’s also the village of Brockport, where they are known — even on a snow-free 50-degree November day — to ticket every vehicle parked on what is, for that day, determined to be the wrong side of the street, as village laws account for snowplowing that might theoretically occur during that period in snowier times. There, they take advantage of thousands of part-time residents (college students) and those who come to town to visit them, all of whom will be unlikely to contest or barter down their tickets in court.

This all too common approach to bad policing initiated by Village Fathers can vividly be seen in practice in Alfred in Allegany County. A few weeks ago, the Alfred Police Department released its annual report for 2011. It indicated that DWI arrests were half of what they were in 2008, that felonies were half 2010’s total, that misdemeanors dropped by 13 percent, and the Alfred police received 1,000 fewer calls for service than the year before. Those numbers caused village officials to wonder, “Should we add more police officers?”

Huh? All the statistics showed that the current staffing levels have improved the quality of life and that the calls for help dropped dramatically (a great indicator of peace), yet the municipal government somehow thinks it necessary to increase the ranks to drive up arrests and tickets. That not only assumes that there must be a lot more guilty people out there, but it also assumes that there are countless dollars for village coffers left untouched.               

These greedy practices by small governments ruin the trust that people have in their police. How often have you heard someone complain about the cops in their town or a community they frequent because of these revenue-generating tactics? That’s a sad, unfortunate outlook to have for our sheriffs, constables, and deputies who are arguably the most important public servants in America. They are there for us: To protect us from society’s degenerates, to aid people in need, and offer our communities a sense of protection that most individuals cannot come close to providing for themselves and their families. They guarantee our liberties and ensure our freedom, allowing us to safely tend to our pursuits.

We need to support our local police and regain the full faith that the citizenry once had in them. To do that, we need to hold our local officials accountable and demand that they stop using them as a means of access to a limitless revenue stream.

Bob Confer is a Gasport resident and vice president of Confer Plastics Inc. in North Tonawanda. Email him at bobconfer@juno.com.