Windsor, site of viral traffic stop, leans heavily on ticketing to fund its budget

Windsor, site of viral traffic stop, leans heavily on ticketing to fund its budget
Windsor, population 2,700, is located 25 miles west of Norfolk on Route 460 in Isle of Wight County. (Source: Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)

The aggressive treatment of an Army lieutenant during a routine traffic stop in the tiny town of Windsor may have surprised some local residents, many of whom called video of the incident a shocking and brazen display of police misconduct.

But the stop itself did not: The town is one of a handful of jurisdictions in Virginia with a well-earned reputation for ticketing passing motorists — an approach to traffic enforcement that pads the tiny town’s budget but which Black residents suspect disproportionately targets minorities.

“I tell everybody in my family that I know or anybody coming to visit me, when you hit Windsor, slow down to 35,” said longtime resident Judith Dempsey.

Like other residents, she said the dark stretch of U.S. Route 460 where officers initiated the now notorious traffic stop of Lt. Caron Nazario is known locally as a favorite spot for police to run radar and look for other potential vehicular violations. And the highway, a busy four-lane road that cuts through peanut fields and swamps to connect Hampton Roads to Petersburg, gives officers plenty of opportunities.

For a town with a population of just 2,600 people, all that traffic enforcement turns a hefty profit. Nearly 10 percent of local revenue came from fines, which totaled $160,000 in 2013, the last year local officials submitted an audited financial report to the state. The town’s proposed budget for the coming year suggests the trend continues, forecasting seven percent of local revenues will come from fines.

Compared to most local governments in Virginia, the numbers represent an unusually large chunk of revenues. The latest figures available from the state show just four municipalities that submitted audited financial reports derived more than five percent of their revenues from fines: the city of Emporia and the counties of Greensville, Brunswick and Sussex, the latter of which is also home to a stretch of 460.

Windsor’s reliance on fines to fund town operations also stands out on a per-capita basis, coming to more than $60 per resident, compared to the statewide average of $13 per resident.

Local leaders and residents defended the police department’s enforcement of traffic laws this week, calling speeding a big problem in a town where a busy four-lane road serves as its main street.

Mayor Glyn Willis said the enforcement is motivated by safety concerns, not profit.

The Virginia Mercury is a new, nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization covering Virginia government and policy.