By Christopher Zoukis
Although the short stretch of I-75 that runs near Arlington Heights, Ohio is toll-free, many unwitting motorists have paid for the privilege of passing through that area. The small village of 800, referred to as a “speed trap” by Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters, had one of the busiest courts in the region – despite being the smallest community – as a result of aggressive ticket-writing by the Arlington Heights Police Department. According to a 2007 report, a whopping 93% of the town’s 3,596 court cases that year stemmed from traffic tickets.
To critics, such practices are a form of revenue-based policing, which often results in divisions between the police and the community they are meant to serve. Such practices came under widespread fire following civil unrest in Ferguson, Missouri throughout 2014.
In March 2015, the U.S. Department of Justice issued a report that examined contributing factors to strained community-police relations in and around Ferguson, concluding that profit motivation on the part of the police and municipal government had indeed been damaging. Those findings led to efforts to reform revenue-based policing throughout Missouri. [See: PLN, Dec. 2016, p.54].
Unfortunately for the residents of Arlington Heights, some of the money extracted from motorists never made it past Deputy Clerk Laura Jarvis and her mother, the town’s former clerk, Donna Covert. In October 2015, state auditors discovered that $260,000 in traffic fines had been stolen by the mother and daughter, who were later prosecuted and convicted of embezzling the funds.
As stated by Deters, “Basically, they were setting up speed traps on I-75 to fund the municipal workings of that village – which they then stole.”
Due to the scandal, the Arlington Heights Police Department was disbanded. On January 1, 2016, a contract went into effect between the town and the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office, in which sheriff’s deputies will patrol Arlington Heights as well as the adjacent stretch of I-75.
While it seemed the embezzlement scandal had brought to light problems associated with revenue-based policing, in late December 2016 the Ohio General Assembly passed a bill, HB 378, that lifts an existing prohibition on the establishment of speed traps on certain highways by municipal police departments.
As noted by news reports at the time of the bill’s passage, a legislative analysis clearly emphasized the potential revenue to be raised by municipalities as a driving force behind the easing of speed trap restrictions. Municipal lobbyists, on the other hand, were more coy, citing a need for greater public safety in pursuing drunk and otherwise impaired drivers. The law will go into effect on April 6, 2017.
Meanwhile, the town of Arlington Heights appears to be functioning well without a police department.
Sources: www.alternet.org, www.cincinnati.com, www.thenewspaper.com, www.wlwt.com
This article original appeared in Prison Legal News on March 9, 2017.