A Tiny Alabama Town Is Growing Its Police Force by Fining Everybody in Sight

Brookside is home to less than 1500 residents. For most of the past decade it saw little crime—only 55 major crimes in eight years, none homicide or rape.

However, in recent years the small town has seen an increase in police officers, which is why today’s police are so large. Birmingham NewsThis is why. They are seeking to fine anyone they can in order to generate revenue.

Birmingham NewsJohn Archibald’s column says that Brookside revenue from fines, forfeitures, and other penalties soared over 640 percent in two years. Now they make up more than half of the city’s overall income. Archibald found that Brookside was arresting more misdemeanors in 2020 than the number of residents. Because so many are trying to challenge the charges, the police have to control traffic to the town hall to collect the fines.

In 2020, the revenue to the city jumped from $431637 in 2016, to $1,233 4,469 in 2020. The jump in revenue was not caused by tax receipts. Brookside’s only source of commercial taxes is a Dollar General. Sixty-one thousand dollars in fines, forfeitures and seizures (due to traffic stops) were collected by Brookside. Half of the town’s budget comes from the fining of travelers. The amount that the police make is even more. CompleteFive years ago, revenue streams were barely visible.

Archibald explains exactly how you can believe that the former mining community a few miles north from Birmingham has become a hub for speeders and reckless drivers. They are searching for every reason to arrest and cite people.

In lawsuits, Brookside officers were accused of inventing charges and using racist language to “make up laws” so that passersby could be charged. Defendants must pay thousands in fines and fees—or pay for costly appeals to state court—and poorer residents or passersby fall into patterns of debt they cannot easily escape.

Archibald recounts the horrible story of Rev. Vincent Witt was stopped at Brookside’s stop sign by police because he carried a paper tag. Witt’s vehicle was new and had a valid tag. Witt said he asked Brookside if Brookside pulled him over this way. Witt also claims that Brookside called Witt an racial slur, and warned him not to go into the town.

Witt called police to report a problem and was informed that he had to go to the police station to make a formal complaint. It was then that things got weird. Witt, his sister and another person were later charged with impersonating officers. Brookside posted their images on Facebook, while Crime Stoppers listed their photographs as suspects. After damaging Witts’ reputation the case was finally dropped.

Witt and Witt’s sibling have filed a federal lawsuit for malice prosecution. Brookside claimed that the officers in question are entitled qualified immunity. Brookside’s problem may be illustrated by the fact that District Court Judge Abdul Kallon of United States District Court Northern District of Alabama granted immunity to the officers involved only in relation to the actual stop.  His ruling was that “bizarre police conduct” afterward could not be protected. “Given the alleged and, truthfully, bizarre conduct—issuing and approving fabricated charges against Pastor Witt and Ms. Witt for impersonating police officers, without probable cause, and publicizing the charges on Facebook and Crime Stoppers in retaliation for Pastor Witt’s complaint—the court is unconvinced that [the officers]You are eligible for qualified immunity

Alabama’s police are given strong incentives for forfeiture. The Institute for Justice has given Alabama a D-grade for civil asset forfeiture. The state doesn’t keep track of forfeiture spending. Additionally, the threshold that police can use to seize property if it is linked to crime is significantly lower than the threshold necessary to make a conviction. However, they are allowed to keep 100% of any money they seize. To get their property back, forfeiture victims are required to show that they are not criminals. This turns the notion of presumed innocence upside down.

Brookside provides a perfect example of the inability to hold police officers accountable for their spending and funding. Archibald was told by the mayor and the police chief that they do not know where the money raised from fines went. There is no formal budgeting process in the town. As the fines increased, funds for police rose 560%. These fines were used to fund police officers who had to find people to fine in order to be paid.

Witt might have felt lucky the thieves didn’t attempt to take his car.

The Brookside police chief Mike Jones has an incredible, revealing quote. Jones believes funding the town’s budget with fines is a good idea and doesn’t see any problems.

“I see a 600% increase—that’s a failure,” Jones told Archibald. You’d be able to do more if you had more officers. It could be even more, I believe.