Brookside, Alabama’s population is barely 1,200 people, but officials decided that what the town really needed was more police. Now, fines and forfeitures make up half of the town’s income in a rampant case of policing for profit, Alabama news site AL.com reports.
The numbers are shocking. Only 55 nonviolent crimes were reported in the seven-year period between 2011 and 2018. And yet in 2018, the police force was expanded from one full-time police officer to eight full-time officers and several part-timers. From the article:
By 2020 Brookside made more misdemeanor arrests than it has residents. It went from towing 50 vehicles in 2018 to 789 in 2020 – each carrying fines. That’s a 1,478% increase, with 1.7 tows for every household in town.
Police stops soared between 2018 and 2020. Fines and forfeitures – seizures of cars during traffic stops, among other things – doubled from 2018 to 2019. In 2020 they came to $610,000. That’s 49% of the small town’s skyrocketing revenue.
A town with just 6.3 miles of roads saw officers patrol 114,438 miles in 2020. And those patrols resulted in stops that residents have often found shocking. There’s the grandmother who’s suing the city alleging that she was stopped after officers claimed she flashed her headlights to warn other cars that they were nearby. Or there’s another resident who was one of 75 people that were given a ticket for simply using the left lane on the interstate. The city is in the business of screwing over its residents. And the mayor doesn’t seem to care that people are complaining:
Mayor Bryan dismissed the complaints of those who must appear in court. “Everybody’s got a story,” he said. “And 99% of them are lying.”
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Residents are hoping something can be done about the situation soon. The sheriff for Brookside’s Jefferson Count, Mark Pettway, thinks everything that’s going on will eventually attract the attention of the federal government:
I think it’s one of those situations … that could possibly bring in the feds with some oversight,” he said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if they opened up an investigation. You can’t do what’s going on over there.
It’s a wild case of for-profit overpolicing in a tiny town with a population whose median income is well below state average — a town that survives in large part due to tax revenue from the local Dollar General. It’s not known for havinv a lot of crime. Though it already brought in a pretty high percentage of its local revenue from fines and forfeitures, even before the policing crisis started.
Here’s hoping Pettway is right and the federal government starts paying attention to Brookside, Alabama.