The Demand for Money Behind Many Traffic Stops


At least 20 states evaluate police performance on the number of traffic stops per hour.

Cities and towns, often those with weakened tax bases or that are barred from easily raising revenue, use fines and fees to raise revenue. Over 730 municipalities rely on fines and fees for at least 10 percent of their revenue. For example, Valley Brook, a town of 870 people, collects about $1 million each year from traffic cases.  The use of armed officers as revenue agents has created incentives for aggressive enforcement and made traffic stops a common routine during which people have been beaten, tased, shot, or arrested. The New York Times identified over 400 unarmed people killed in the last five years who were not being pursued for violent crimes and examined practices in Ohio, Oklahoma, and Virginia which have all had controversy surrounding traffic stops.

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Key Findings:

  • The federal government issues $600 million a year in highway safety grants that subsidize ticket writing.
  • Nearly 100 Virginia communities receive federal grants encouraging tickets; annual grants ranged from $900 to $1 million last year.
  • Newburgh Heights, Ohio’s  Black residents, make up 22 percent of the population but make up 76 percent of license and insurance violations and 63 percent of speeding cases.
  • In 2019, Henderson, La, a town of 2,000, collected $1.7 million in fines, 89 percent of their general revenues.
  • “Analysis of North Carolina court data by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis found that “significantly more tickets” were issued when localities experienced financial difficulties.”
Mike McIntire and Michael H. Keller
The New York Times