News 4 Investigates: The biggest speed trap in the region Part 2 - KMOV.com

News 4 Investigates: The biggest speed trap in the region Part 2

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Many local police departments and municipal courts are under fire. Some of them collect massive amounts of cash by handing out tickets and issuing hefty fines. That practice is creating demands for reform.

St. Ann police say their intense highway patrol is about safety, but critics say they are acting as pickpockets of their city, raising millions of dollars off the motorists driving briefly through their small town.

"You can't have government by speed trap and that's what we have in this county," said Missouri State Senator Eric Schmitt (R-St. Louis County). "6 years ago St. Ann wrote about 2,000 tickets. Now they write about 9,000 tickets."

Schmitt says 14 municipalities in St. Louis County, roughly 1 out of 6, collect more money from traffic tickets and fines than anything else.

During that time, the dramatic increase in traffic tickets helped St. Ann triple its revenue through municipal court fines and fees, from $974,000 in 2009 to $2.6 million last year, which now represents about 30% of the St. Ann budget.

Right now, Missouri municipalities can use fines and fees to fund up to 30% of their budget, but Schmitt has introduced a bill that would cut that to 10% for most municipalities.

Check out Part 1 here

The bill could have a dramatic impact on places like St. Ann, Edmundson and Pine Lawn, which are among the 21 St. Louis County municipalities that collect more than 20% of their revenue from traffic tickets and fines. All but one is in North County.

"People ought to be offended that police departments are being used this way by their mayors and city managers who view citizens of those communities and surrounding communities as ATMs for their governments," said Schmitt.

If the bill becomes law, municipalities would have to give the state back all money above the limit or risk losing additional tax money. The County would also be able to set an election calling for disincorporation, in other words providing residents with the opportunity to give their local government the death penalty.

"I think the hidden agenda is to eliminate a third, if not more, of the municipalities in St. Louis County, but if they are surviving only on court fines and fees, it's hard not to make that argument," said St. Ann Mayor Mike Corcoran.

Corcoran was elected in 2011, and doesn't control the police department because unlike most police chiefs, Aaron Jimenez is elected, and ultimately answers to voters, not the mayor or the city manager.

"There probably isn't anybody in this region that wants it changed more dramatically than I. I'm working with the chief. He's an elected chief and it's his call," said Corcoran.

He said he would eventually like Chief Jimenez to eliminate the highway detail, "I think he's taken the steps to disband it appropriately and in a timely manner.”

Jimenez told News 4, he's already reduced highway traffic enforcement from 6 to 3 days a week, but despite using fewer cops there, Jimenez admits St. Ann still wrote almost 60 percent more tickets last year on Interstate 70.

He told News 4, "I want the public to know that I'm going to continue to be proactive."

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