Failure to display your dog’s vaccination tags will cost you $50 in Aspen. Excessive growth of weeds in your yard? $100 in Boulder. Failure to wear a seatbelt? $200 in Pueblo.
If taxes are the price we pay for civilization, then what are fines and citations indicative of? I would argue that they are price we pay for a nanny state that seems increasingly fixated on generating revenue only to perpetuate itself.
In 2015, Jeremy Jojola of 9NEWS investigated the aggressive traffic ticket practices of various municipalities across the state. In his aptly named feature, “Citation Nation,” Jojola uncovered several Colorado municipalities that were overly dependent upon traffic violations as a revenue source for their general funds.
Mountain View—an obscure enclave of 518 people that could be easily confused as just another neighborhood of Denver—managed to issue 3,624 traffic tickets in 2014. The fines collected by this afterthought of a municipality comprised 53 percent of Mountain View’s total revenue.
The investigation uncovered municipalities where citation revenue accounted for percentages as high as 93 percent of their total general fund!
“It should be ‘serve and protect’, not ‘fine and collect,’” asserts Steve Kerbel.
Based in Colorado Springs, Kerbel is a one-man wrecking crew when it comes to challenging government at every level. A successful businessman, Kerbel took on Colorado’s Division of Securities, challenging a regulatory decision that cost him his retirement savings. He even ran for president, seeking the nomination of the Libertarian Party in 2016.
Now, he’s actively organizing volunteers, raising money, and promoting his new cause, “Stop the Shakedowns”— a campaign to present a statewide ballot measure that will radically reform how fines for victimless crimes are collected in our state.
What “Stop the Shakedowns” proposes is simple yet creative: all fines, forfeitures, or financial penalties are first paid to the victim of a crime; if no victim restitution is necessary, payments can be made to a registered Colorado charity selected by the penalized person.
The goal of this measure is to wean government off of what is causing it to be oversized and bloated: our money. The hope is that the shift in funding will also consequently create a seismic shift in priorities for those who enforce the law, inspiring less speed traps and a more judicious enforcement of crimes that actually involve victims. Plus, the obvious conflict of interest—profiting from the very laws they enforce—is off the table.
As you read this now, “Stop the Shakedowns” is already in motion. After several trips to the State Capitol, Kerbel has finalized ballot language, which has gained the approval of the Colorado General Assembly’s Legislative Council. He is only one public hearing away—getting approval from the Colorado’s Title Board—from being able to collect signatures to qualify to be on the 2018 ballot.
Fortunately, Kerbel isn’t the Lone Ranger; the Colorado General Assembly tackled police rent-seeking from a different angle during this past session. In April, Colorado legislators passed House Bill 1313, a new law that requires all law enforcement agencies to open up their books about their use of civil asset forfeiture—the extrajudicial seizure of property by police without an actual conviction. Colorado’s Department of Local Affairs will publish and maintain the information on a public database.
Sponsored by a diverse, bipartisan coalition of legislators, the bill was passed with a resounding majority. Of the 100 Colorado legislators, only 14 opposed the bill. HB-1313 was signed into law by Gov. John Hickenlooper on June 9.
The political will for change exists, so maybe there is hope.
Colorado made national headlines in 2012 when it voted to legalize recreational marijuana, putting the state ahead of the curve nationally when it challenged antiquated legal taboos. Now, with “Stop the Shakedowns” and HB-1313, Colorado has the opportunity to be a trendsetter again—this time, challenging revenue-centric policing and promoting judicious law enforcement.
To learn more about “Stop the Shakedowns,” be sure to visit www.stoptheshakedowns.com. This campaign will require money and volunteers to become reality.
Washington, D.C.-based civil-liberties watchdog Institute for Justice joined in the applause for Gov. John Hickenlooper’s decision Friday to sign into law a much-debated rollback of state and local law enforcement’s civil-forfeiture powers. The new law includes a number of checks on those powers including a provision that drew dogged opposition from Colorado’s law-enforcement agencies: State and local agencies in most cases no longer will be able to get federal forfeiture funds for collaborating with the feds on busts.
The bipartisan legislation was introduced by Reps. Leslie Herod, D-Denver, and Stephen Humphrey, R-Eaton, in the House and Sens. Daniel Kagan, D-Cherry Hills Village, and Tim Neville, R-Littleton, in the Senate.
Using civil forfeiture, police and other law-enforcement agencies can seize cash, cars, homes and other assets from those merely suspected of involvement in crimes. No one need be convicted of a crime or even charged with one. The policy has generated a lucrative revenue stream for law enforcement at all levels of government — fueling a years-long debate between law-and-order politicians reluctant to rein in the practice amid the War on Drugs and civil libertarians who contend the seizures are an affront to the Bill of Rights.
In a press statement, the Institute for Justice lauded Hickenlooper and said Colorado set a new standard:
“Colorado now has the best laws in the nation, hands-down, for seizure and forfeiture transparency,” said Institute for Justice Senior Legislative Counsel Lee McGrath. “Through its comprehensive disclosure requirements, this law will play a vital role in keeping both the public and legislators well-informed about civil forfeiture in Colorado.”
… “Colorado has created an exemplary model for other states to follow, particularly in shining a light on forfeiture spending and making seizure and forfeiture activity readily available online,” said Jennifer McDonald, an IJ research analyst, who co-authored a report on forfeiture transparency and accountability. “The state should ensure that these requirements are properly implemented in the months to come.”
The institute’s full press statement includes a helpful recap of the new law’s key feature as well as an explainer on the federal “equitable sharing program” under which Colorado, according to an analysis by the institute, received some $47 million between 2000 and 2013. Here’s the link again.