Some OK towns using traffic tickets to fund up to 1/3 of budget
Behind the vehicle of a Valley Brook police cruiser, Chief Michael Stamp gave Fox 25 a tour of the one square mile town he keeps guard over.
"I'm going to make a traffic stop," he told us after witnessing the driver of a red Mustang make an illegal left turn.
They're the kind of stops that are common among his staff of 15 full and part-time officers.
"Our city doesn't make it a focus to earn a certain dollar amount per day, per month or per year," he said. "We're just out there enforcing the laws that are already on the books."
The woman in the red Mustang didn't have a driver's license, nor did she have any tag or insurance information.
"Face that way and put your hands behind your back," the Chief told her. "I'm placing you under arrest."
A records request by Fox 25 revealed Valley Brook issued 3,394 tickets in the last year, not including 500-plus warnings. There were 329 for speeding, 289 for no insurance, 366 for expired tags and 286 for driving without a license, among many other citations.
Those tickets generated more than $463,000, or roughly one-third of the city's budget. But Chief Stamp says his town is different than most. Anyone familiar with the area knows there are now four strip clubs on or near southeast 59th Street.
"We are actively looking for people that are violating those types of laws. Driving under the influence, the drug possessions."
His department issued more than 300 tickets related to alcohol and drugs last year, and he tells Fox 25, that number is going up in 2015.
"I don't think the answer is less enforcement, I think we need to focus on the city side to raise those revenues and bring in other businesses."
Fox 25 asked our viewers if there are any towns they feel ticket more than others. The four common answers were Valley Brook, Lexington, Verden and Amber. Here's what our record's requests revealed:
Valley Brook - Tickets: 3,394, Money Generated: $463,549, Population: 784
Lexington - Tickets: 478, Money Generated: $61,505, Population: 2,181
Verden - Tickets: 554, Money Generated: $112,240, Population: 534
Amber - Tickets: 690, Money Generated: $94,402, Population: 430
(Population numbers from 2013 U.S. Census Data)
In Amber, that's about two tickets a day - a number the town's Mayor says isn't by any means unreasonable.
"Citations are issued for laws that are broken," Mayor Craig Parham said.
A breakdown of those 690 tickets includes 53 for defective equipment, 27 for stop sign violations, four for no insurance, one for marijuana possession and 441 speeding tickets.
Fox 25 asked the Mayor if the town has a speeding problem.
"Oh yes," he said. "We have a major highway through town with school kids crossing the highway."
In total, the town generated about $140,000 in court fees and fines. That number is more than the local sales, use, alcohol and tobacco taxes brought in, combined.
But Amber Mayor says traffic tickets are not a crucial part, and there are no special instructions given to law enforcement.
"Any revenue in a town of this size is important," he said. "But is it necessary? No."
In fact, Mayor Parham told Fox 25, the town has a cushion thanks to pipeline money from years back.
"We could sustain for five to six years with no revenue, no sales tax."
Records show Amber is actually cash positive with more than a million dollars tucked away.
So, to the people who accuse these towns of issuing too many tickets?
"Look at the open records, it's not the case," Mayor Parham said.