by News 4 Investigates Team
The stretch of Interstate 70 near Lambert airport is a huge money maker for North St. Louis County municipalities, but one above the others is raking in the money all thanks to speeding tickets: St. Ann.
Nine times out of ten, St. Ann police officers write a speeding ticket when they pull people over on their city's stretch of I-70.
Last year, St. Ann police say they issued 7,898 tickets on this small stretch of highway near Lambert airport. That's an average of nearly one ticket every hour, every day of the year.
When asked by News 4 if he is running a speed trap, St. Ann Police Chief Aaron Jimenez said, "I believe we are not running a speed trap."
In 2009, after a series of deadly crashes, this part of the interstate was classified as a "Travel Safe Zone" by MoDOT. State and county police, and officers from eight municipalities, including St. Ann, increased their presence. The number of traffic crashes dropped by 83 percent.
"It slowed people down. People didn't want to get a ticket" said Jimenez. St. Ann police also took much of their ticket writing from city streets to the highway.
In 2009, St. Ann stopped ten times more vehicles on city streets than on I-70. Now, the number of vehicles stopped on I-70 is more than triple the stops on city streets.
That pushes much of the financial burden of St. Ann traffic tickets on drive-by visitors, not residents, though Jimenez, one of the few elected police chiefs around, insists he's not playing politics.
"We want people to slow down. We want people to obey the law" said Jimenez.
That dramatic reversal in strategy has also helped triple fines and fees collected in the St. Ann municipal court, from $974,000 in 2009 to $2.6 million in 2014. That represents about 30 percent of the St. Ann budget.
"I'm not hiding how much money we do bring in and that it helps. I know it helps. It helps give the officers overtime for working the detail and it also allows us to pay our reserve officers who usually work for free," said Jimenez. And when pressed if his officers get any incentives to write more tickets, he replied, "No."
Perhaps more than any police chief in the St. Louis area, Chief Jimenez is unlocking the profit potential of law enforcement.
He also runs the jail and other municipalities pay St. Ann about $300,000 a year to house their inmates and provide dispatch services.
Critics say St. Ann is using traffic tickets to make up for the loss of a mall that generated millions of dollars in tax revenue. A large chunk of the mall closed in 2006, and the final stores shut down in 2010.
In response to the closure, the city made cuts and increased fines and fees. The traffic enforcement on the interstate helped offset some of the losses, but city officials insist the highway speed reduction effort is about safety, not cash for the city.