Police Chief of Alabama Town That Was Getting Fat on Fines Steps Down Amid Bipartisan Outrage

After media attention and outraged demands for action by both Democratic and Republican officials, the police chief who defended an Alabama small town’s brutal fining of drivers was forced to resign.

Brookside was a tiny community of just 1,500 people. John Archibald from the National Geographic made Brookside a big news story last week. Birmingham NewsIt was reported that Mike Jones, its Mayor and Police Chief had begun a scheme to increase fines and forfeitures as a way of funding its government. Archibald estimated that revenue for the town nearly tripled in four years due to these fines. They targeted mainly anyone passing by Brookside or near Brookside, on Interstate 22.

It wasn’t a trap for the unwary. There are at least five federal lawsuits against the town. These people claim that police made up charges and then retaliated against anyone who complained. Traffic court monthly was overflowing with traffic-related cases. By 2020, half of the town’s $1.2 million in annual revenue was coming from fines and forfeiture, and the money was being funneled to a disproportionately large police force for a small town.

Archibald heard Jones defend the predatory town practices. Jones saw the mass payment as a positive story, and said that he could get more money with additional officers. Jones quit within one week after Archibald had published the story. Archibald couldn’t reach Jones to get an explanation. The town could only confirm his disappearance.

Turns out that everyone else was aware of the problem with the corrupt police who were fining individuals solely to pay the police department. The Republican state lieutenant governor and chair of the Democratic Party stated that they will work together to pass legislation to curb small-town police brutality, which tries to extract fines from motorists. A law already prohibits speeders from crossing interstate highways in cities that have fewer than 19,000 residents. Brookside’s police have found other ways to comply with the law, including accusing speeders of driving too close or in the wrong lane. Legislators are currently considering legislation to prohibit small police officers from ticketing motorists on the highway.

That would be good—pulling over drivers for minor traffic violations that aren’t actual safety threats creates unnecessary opportunities for conflict as it is.

Legislators mentioned the possibility that revenue from fines and forfeitures could be diverted away from the police and other city funds. This is a wonderful idea and one that merits further investigation. The primary motivation for police seizing cars and fines is to be able to keep them. This was evident in Brookside. This incentive is what would prevent police from searching every vehicle it finds for potential scores. In addition, it is likely that a small town of 1500 would not have the funds to buy 10 fancy police cars for its officers.