WHEN LOCAL GOVERNMENTS NEED MONEY,
BEING ‘THOUGHTLESS’ CAN COST YOU
Late last month, we told you about Gary, a guy who had pretty credible evidence of two local government shakedown operations. We asked readers to respond with their own stories, and many did. As expected, we heard a number of tales about how local police departments are functioning as revenue collection departments – a national and state trend that the S.C. Policy Council (The Nerve’s parent organization) has analyzed here.
The following response struck us as interesting.
Since March 2012, I have been driving back and forth from Lexington to Hardeeville, once a month, mostly in the evening, using highways 302, 178, and 321, because I can’t stand the sad excuse for an interstate called I-26.
While traveling south on 321 through Norway, at around 7:30 p.m., I pulled over just south of town to allow a vehicle with flashing blue lights to go by. It didn’t. Instead, it pulled up behind me (on an unlit stretch of road). I considered turning around and driving back to the town where there was lighting, but didn’t.
I lowered my window about three inches and waited for what I assumed would be a law enforcement officer. A man identifying himself as of the Norway Police Department asked me why I was in such a hurry. I then began to be suspicious – I’d driven this route many times, without speeding that I’m aware of, and had never been stopped. I replied that I wasn’t “in a hurry.” Then he said I was “doing 42 in a 30 mile per hour zone.” I thought, “No way,” but didn’t say anything.
He asked for my driver’s license and the usual items and went back to his car. After five minutes or so, he came back and explained to me that although I was “speeding,” he wasn’t going to cite me because points would end up on my license. Instead, he said, he was citing me for “thoughtless operation” of a vehicle.
When I asked what that was, he said something to the effect that citing me for speeding would require any fine to be sent to a higher level of government, after which the little Town of Norway would receive a portion thereof. On the other hand, by citing me for “thoughtless operation,” a local statute, the fine would be paid directly to the Town of Norway. He then handed me a Uniform Traffic Ticket (UTT) on which he had written “BOND $133.75.”
He explained that I didn’t have to appear in court, but that I could just send the “fine” to the address listed on the UTT.
Then he asked me for my Social Security number. Of course I asked why he needed it. He said it was to ensure that “we get the money.” I hesitated to give it, because this whole episode seemed suspicious, but I gave in – if for no other reason than to be on my way. He wrote it down on something he was holding.
Was this a shakedown?
Let us know what you think in the comments section below, or send us your story – or tip – at firstname.lastname@example.org.