Image: Gorodenkoff (Shutterstock)
Small southern towns that police and ticket for profit are nothing new, but one village in Louisiana takes the cake though for making its revenue through ticketing.
Fenton, Louisiana is a unique place, with a law allows the mayor to be a judge and the village. That’s probably because Fenton is a tiny village of just 226 people in an area that covers just 20 blocks. Anyone with a mind for civic engagement is going to need two jobs in a town that tiny, but it is also a system ripe for corruption.
Nothing about Fenton’s revenue is tiny though. Audits show the village took in $1.3 million in traffic fines and asset forfeiture in 2022. That’s not just the highest in the state, it’s also one of the highest in the country. Data from the Urban Institute shows the average U.S. municipality gets just 1.7 percent of its revenue from fines and forfeitures; Fenton sits at 92.5 percent.
It’s all thanks to a small town setup where the mayor is the judge and decides the fate of those ticketed.
The fines were collected through what’s known as a “mayor’s court”: a little-known type of small town court found only in Louisiana and Ohio. In Fenton, its primary function is processing the thousands of traffic tickets written annually by a few police officers. Here, the mayor is also the judge, appointing the prosecutor and, if drivers ask for a trial, deciding their guilt or innocence.
Those fines in turn help run the city and pay officials’ salaries, including the mayor’s. It’s a huge conflict of interest; so much so that a case about it went to the Supreme Court in the 1970s where a ruling “curtailed the power of mayors who take in a lot of money through their court.” Experts say Fenton may be violating the Supreme Court with how it’s doing things.
Worse yet, when ProPublica and New Orleans’ WVUE Fox 8 requested access to things like court minutes, body camera footage and case summaries, the town didn’t actually want to give them access; ProPublica was granted a meeting with the mayor for just five minutes.
Because everything is revenue driven, getting out of the ticket can prove tough for drivers, especially when the court seems to be purposely petty.
Fenton’s court records paint a picture of a justice system in which some people are punished for how they act while others are rewarded for who they know.
We found a dozen court records that include notations from officers and village employees saying not to “help” people or “fix” their tickets because drivers were rude. On a ticket for driving 71 mph in a 50: “Refused phone number, driver was very disrespectful no help.” Fine: $305.
A ticket for 81 in a 50: “Very bad attitude. Do not fix.” Fine: $490.
Video from an officer’s body camera during one traffic stop shows a woman, stopped for driving 62 mph, asking the officer to show her the radar reading and to let her go with a warning.
“What else do you guys do around this town?” she asked the officer after he handed her a ticket.
“Protect and serve,” he responded.
Her file reads, “Bad attitude.” She was fined $215.
Head on over to ProPublica to read the rest of the report. Prepare to find yourself getting more pissed as you read. It paints a damning picture of just how many small cities across the country do business by screwing over its citizens.
Keyword: Tiny Louisiana Village With Just 226 People Collected $1.3 Million In Traffic Fines In 2022