A small town in Florida is being scrutinized for corruption after its police officers issued 12,698 speeding tickets between 2011 and 2012 on a stretch of road just over a third of a kilometer in length. Hampton, Florida boasts only 477 residents, but its law enforcement generated $151,000 in speeding fines in 2012 alone. This is mostly a result of the state road running through the town that features an easy-to-miss dropped speed limit.
Unfortunately, the corruption runs even deeper than the excessive ticketing. A recent state audit revealed highly questionable financial activity in the town’s government over a period of at least a decade. The alleged mismanagement is serious enough to remove Hampton from the map, dissolving its government and delegating management of the small area to a nearby county. The context of the excessive ticketing suggests that it may tie back to questionable ethics rather than overzealous law enforcement.
Across the Ocean
Examples of “gotcha” law enforcement certainly aren’t confined to Florida—or even to the United States. Questionable enforcement occurs in the UK as well. For example, one enthusiastic car parking warden in Christchurch made headlines late last year when he gave a parking ticket to an ambulance that was stopped to treat an elderly patient. While the county council’s parking services manager claims that the ticket was issued because the emergency vehicle failed to turn on its blue lights to indicate an emergency, those who witnessed the incident remain astonished.
In a similar incident in December of 2013, a mother with a toddler and two dogs was ticketed and fined at Wollaton Park for parking her car without depositing money into a parking meter. She claimed that the meter corresponding to her parking space was broken and that she was walking with her child and pets to find a working meter at the time the ticket was issued. A city council spokesperson claimed that the meter was investigated and found to be working properly, but another park patron has also stated that meters at the park are often in disrepair, and that the wardens are eager to give out tickets regardless of the situation. Before ticketing a citizen, shouldn’t the enforcer consider the entire situation and the fairness of a ticket?
Despite these outrageous anecdotes, many traffic tickets are issued justly, and the common-sense issuance of such tickets is necessary not only to preserve public safety but also to preserve law and order. In Brighton, for example, traffic wardens gave out 24 tickets in a mere two days last year when they began to enforce yellow line parking laws. While the recipients of the tickets were most likely not overjoyed, traders and residents, for whom the law exists to protect, were appreciative of the new stringent enforcement.
Fair and just enforcement is considered a blessing in any municipality. In a celebrity-driven age, fair and just enforcement is particularly exceptional when it involves “blindness” on the part of the enforcers. A particularly apt example of such blindness is the courageous traffic warden who placed an £80 ticket on a car belonging to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, whose secret service agents had parked a silver Mercedes for 45 minutes without paying. Although the agents objected to the fine, the Westminster City Council stood behind its traffic warden, insisting that he had simply done his duty without regard to who owned the car in question.
In a world where some officers of the law— like those in Hampton, Florida—exploit strange or confusing traffic laws in order to boost city revenue, the dichotomy between just and unjust members of law enforcement is particularly stark. Government corruption and unjustness does filter down to the citizens, just as fair enforcement of laws impacts citizens – for the good.