Delta and St. Louis: A Contrast in Speed Traps

Editorial written by Christopher Morrill on Sunday, May 14, 2000

from the it's-for-the-children-i'm-sure dept.

Honesty now and then in government is refreshing. Even if it's profoundly stupid honesty, it's amusing nonetheless. A remarkable event in Delta exemplifies this.

Two weeks ago, the town council's firing of the entire two-man police force in the tiny town of Delta (motto: "At least we're not Bell City") was not a matter of sheer politics per se. Delta fired it's police force because they weren't writing enough tickets. And the aldermen on the City Council are admitting this. It's not about law enforcement. It's about "generating revenue."

Most people know that small towns use speed traps as one of their most vital sources of funding. Particularly when those speed traps target out-of-towners. The money from the speeding tickets is so important to some of these wee little villages that their budget would crumble without it. Delta, with a population of only 450 and located on a heavily traveled state highway, is an ideal place for speed traps.

However, no city government has ever just come out honestly and admitted this. Delta just did, which is cause for celebration in the "Honesty sells, but who's buying?" department.

These same small towns always deny that there's any "quota" of tickets that their local Gestapo must issue. Delta has not officially admitted that, but they may as well have. Refreshing, yet again.

One has to wonder if Delta might be able to learn a valuable lesson from the small St. Louis suburb of Bel-Ridge. The lesson: "If you get caught, deny everything".

According to the Saturday, May 13th edition of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, this north St. Louis county hamlet was busted by MoDOT for purposely manipulating a crosswalk signal to issue tickets. [The article is online here but that link might be obsolete by the time you read this. -- Editor] The signal in question flashes yellow except during school hours, where it turns red when pedestrians press a button.

An engineer from the State says he witnessed the local police turning the signal red outside of school hours, not coincidentally when a line of cars was approaching. Predictably, a windfall in tickets resulting. The engineer fixed the crosswalk signals so that the local Barney Fifes could not monkey with them.

The city fathers of Bel-Ridge, of course, deny all knowledge of such tomfoolery. Which is exactly what Delta's ruling authorities should have done. But no; they told the truth. They believe the function of their police is primarily one of revenue enhancement as opposed to law enforcement.

Wiping out their police department altogether, however, seems a bit much.

I don't imagine that there will be a big wave of anarchy, prostitution, gambling, rioting, or any other good clean fun in Delta when the police force disappears. It will not be Beirut, Mogadishu, or even Las Vegas. Delta is quiet, and the folks there are generally well-behaved. There will be some serious speeding, a few drunks running into light poles, and some folks shooting up street lights and stop signs with small caliber weapons. In essence, nothing big. The local teenagers will no doubt raise some hell, but there won't be any looting. There's just not a lot in Delta to loot, quite honestly.

Surely, Cape County can adequately police the area in the interim. Hopefully they send Delta a bill for it, though.

State law already limits municipalities to keeping no more than 45 percent of the fines they collect for traffic violations. In order to further stymie these Dukes of Hazzard-type road traps, the omniscient managerial staff of The Cape Rock would go a step farther by advocating the following:

  1. Of that 45% the towns are allowed to keep, require that those funds be used for road improvements only.

  2. Even better, if ticket "revenue" is deemed excessive, the state could confiscate all of the money and use it to build a bypass around the city in question.

  3. Send all of the excess money to The Cape Rock in small, unmarked bills. (The editorial staff is highly enthusiastic about this concept.)

Getting canned may be the best thing to ever happen to the Delta Police, though. Would you take a bullet for $6.50 per hour, which is what they were getting paid? When you look at it that way, getting the ax seems like a blessing.

And for you, dear reader, a side benefit: next time you pass through that fair city, you may not have to take your cruise control off of 95 miles per hour.

Just pray they don't get any wise ideas from their St. Louis brethren, and put in any crosswalk signals.