The I-295 Money Trap

By Andy Jenks - bio | email

Posted by Terry Alexander - email

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - Heavy on the gas could make you lighter in the wallet. On a small stretch of Interstate 295 in Hopewell, many drivers know that all too well.

A 2009 study in the Journal of Law and Economics, found that local governments in North Carolina used traffic tickets to make up for lost revenue. We wanted to know, if that was also the case in metro-Richmond. And we discovered the one place, where they don't deny it. In fact, they're "proud" of it.

He's definitely not all that popular. But he's got a job to do. Chad Parker is a part-time sheriff's deputy in Hopewell. And writing tickets is what he does.

The job is to pull-over speeders on a one-mile stretch of Interstate 295. Part of a city-endorsed program, to promote safe driving, with the obvious benefit of raising lots of money.

"What it boils down to, it's $5 for every mph over the posted speed," Parker said.

In April of 2008 the Sheriff's Office, which is separate from Hopewell Police, generated approximately $6,000 in Interstate fines.

In April of 2009, the fines are projected to be more than $40,000, all of which go to the city treasury.

In a time when the economy is tanking, and budgets are tight, supporters of the program believe it's rarely been more beneficial than it is now.

"And I'm not sure why the money that that generates is causing controversy with people but, hey, it's a free country, everybody gets their opinion," said Sheriff Greg Anderson, who introduced the program in 2007.

Outside of Hopewell we found that traffic tickets were actually down in Richmond, and up in Chesterfield, Henrico, and Hanover when compared to last year. But those law enforcers are quick to cut off any connection between public safety and so-called "policing for profit".

"Our point is to be effective. Not to generate money.The revenue that might be generated as a result of fines or criminal cases are irrelevant," said Lt. Mike Trice of the Hanover County Sheriff's Office.

Hopewell deputies say, to call their work "tricky", or a "trap", would imply something dishonest. So they make no effort to hide what they're doing.

"We're in an economic downturn. But the laws stay the same," Sheriff Anderson said.

The next time you see Chad on the Interstate, remember, he's a just a guy who's doing his job.

"I get no benefit. If I write 10 tickets, if I write 200 tickets," Parker said, adding, "If my job is to mop a floor and I don't mop the floor, I get fired. Why? Because that's what I was hired to do."

Like the other departments we contacted, including State Police, the Hopewell Sheriff's Office does not see a direct benefit. In fact, the Sheriff's budget was cut this year. The program, though, will continue even as critics say they'll be challenging the Sheriff's authority, in court.

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