Avoid Jericho, Arkansas at All Costs

Not many people have seen it, but one of my favorite movies is Interstate 60.  It has a story thread through the movie, but what it really becomes is a series of essays on freedom and slavery.  One the best parts is the town where everyone is a lawyer.  The only way anyone makes money is when someone breaks the law, so their laws are crafted such that it is impossible not to break the law.

The town of Jericho, Arkansas sounds very similar.  It has 174 residents, no businesses, but a police force of 6 that tries to find ways to support itself.  Apparently, everyone in town is constantly in court for traffic citations.  When one man got fed up, and yelled at the police in court for their stupid speed traps, the police shot him - right in the courtroom.  In a scene right out of Interstate 60, the DA, after investigating the shooting, couldn't remember the name of the police officer who did the shooting and said no charges would be filed against the police, but that misdemeanor charges were being considered against the man shot.  Probably for littering, due to his bleeding on the floor.

Via Radley Balko (who else?)


  1. Bill:

    I very disappointed in you! You let pass without mention the most important line in the story:

    "Sheriff's deputies patrolled Jericho until the 1990s, when the city received grant money to start its own police force, Martin said.""

    Government filled another need that didn't exist, and all hell broke loose....

  2. TakeFive:

    This is going to become the norm as more cities and states look for ways to raise revenue. Can RICO statutes be used against the police?

  3. K:

    Town police will sometimes not control themselves. But we have county police and state police. And district attorneys and state attorneys.

    Which is no guarantee anyone will act.

    I believe RICO applies to any organization or portion of an organization. An agreement to write traffic tickets solely for revenue fits. That is a form of extortion.

    Showing a pattern of illegal activity counts. Showing a pattern of idiotic government doesn't.

    Civil rights statutes can probably be applied to the shooting.

  4. Michael:

    The man shot was the Fire Chief protesting to the judge his second ticket that day.

    I'm in Mariemont, OH, a village of about 5,000. We had a mayor that instructed the cops to focus on ticking people. We elected a new mayor who made the commitment to stop the police and that's just what he did.

    Unless the 174 residents of Jericho are getting kick backs from the cops, which is doubtful since the cops aren't paying their bills, the people of Jericho could most likely vote to disband the police.

  5. Mesa Econoguy:

    This “social contract” concept seems to have some hazardous consequences….

  6. Michael:

    K, I didn't find anything in the story that indicates the cops were giving speeding tickets to people who weren't speeding. Though I don't know if giving a ticket to the guy doing 58 in his driveway was legal. What's looks criminal is the money from the tickets isn't getting to the local government but in to someones pocket.

    Mesa, “social contract”, hazardous consequences? Kinda like rounding up all the single mothers and letting them swing by the neck in the town square hazardous?

  7. K:

    Michael: You seem to be right. The people were speeding. You read the story carefully, I just glanced toward it.

    I was focused elsewhere, on the question TakeFive had asked about whether RICO could apply. Yes, they do not have immunity from RICO.

    The question is motive: "yes" RICO would apply if police, in concert, wrote tickets to get money. And "maybe", if they just patrolled with extreme diligence and wrote tickets.

    If that heavy policing was done only because they are jerks then it wasn't criminal. Fire them.

    Leaving aside RICO, if ticket revenues were diverted from the proper destination that is simply theft. No deep legal questions there. Might be malfeasance too.

    When people get shot we are no longer discussing tickets. The feds might jump in: suppose the DA, police, etc. seem to act together to selective enforce law. That is a pattern. The DA better be careful about declining to prosecute, discretion is a good defense but not an absolute one.

    All in all this sounds like such a mess that proper analysis can't be done here. The civil government seems broken in Jericho.

    The state authorities should have taken control of the entire town and then sorted through what happened. AK state officials have that authority unless AK is a very peculiar state indeed.

    The cure is to use strong medicine of the legal variety.

  8. sabril:

    Personally, when I read the story, I immediately thought that there was a racial angle. Sure enough, Jericho Arkansas is over 90% black.

    Sorry, but this is not a libertarian issue. This is yet another example of blacks behaving badly and showing that as a group they are not competent to run any government.

    This is just Zimbabwe on a smaller scale.

  9. Michael:

    K, Just a curious follow up on the RICO. The NYC mayor said I believe in early spring that he was going to lay off street cops and replace them with meter maids who's only job would be to issue tickets. That sound like it would meet the "in concert" part of RICO.

    We had a similar ticketing issue here in Ohio. About 1/2 mile of I-71 ran through the corporate lines of a small town. The town used issuing tickets on 71 as their revenue source. RIOC never came up, but the state did consider rerouting 71. I believe in the end the state took the land by eminent domain because of the congestion caused on the interstate by the town.

  10. K:

    Michael: Clever observation.

    Technically those words indicate an organized criminal activity. But we know otherwise.

    He meant the meter maids job would be to monitor meters and, as needed, write violation tickets. Maybe they can call tow trucks and impound vehicles too.

    RICO isn't a good cure for bad local government. But on occasion - usually in very small towns - the civil authority becomes totally corrupt, cannot be ousted, and goes too far. If the state officials will not clean matters up then the feds may. And RICO may be the best tool for a given case. Various civil rights laws can apply too.

    People are traditionally uneasy about conspiracy based laws. And rightly so.

    i.e. laws that infer intent rather than explicit acts.

    People don't want to be arrested for just "seeming" to have done something. But we still have laws which can lead to that. And police sometimes must make decisions and field arrests based only on high probability.

    The anti-trust laws are very broad. If business actions look enough like collusion the law applies even if no exact conversations, or witnesses, or smoking guns can be found.

    You might well ask why a set of corrupt officials wouldn't be ousted by election. Answer: by one means or another they control the elections and count the votes.

  11. Michael:

    K, So if say Walmart and Sears both set the price of a coffee maker at $20, but Kmart can't price it below $25, Kmart might be able to make an anti-trust case even if Walmart and Sears never had contact?

    If so, I can see why people would be wary. Can't compete, turn your competitors in to criminals.

    I find it interesting that anti-trust laws still exists. Coyote has made some great points that anti-trust business practices don't succeed in free markets. But then I'd be naive to believe we really have a free market.

  12. rxc:

    Wasn't there a similar situation in a town in Ohio like this about 10 years ago, where the town as eventually de-certified by the legislature as a town, so that they couldn't have a police force any more?

  13. K:

    Michael: The topic is too big to go much further. Anti-trust is a catch-all term which covers laws about trusts, monopoly, restraint of trade, unfair practices, etc. The Trusts themselves are gone, the word lingers on.

    Unfair Practices is the big category, the dirty tricks collection. John D. Rockefeller destroyed his oil competitors with a dirty trick that is now illegal. But it worked then. Over time his company achieved monopoly power, and damn-it-all, that was illegal too.

    Now to be specific, yes, if statistical evidence showed that Walmart and Sears repeatedly undercut Kmart in that way it might suffice. Even without a single word of evidence that Walmart and Sears ever communicated.

    And if Walmart and Sears acted differently in towns w/o a Kmart that would strengthen the case.

    An important point is that conspirators need not have made a plan. They may never have met. But they in some way coordinated acts.

    Another point is that you are not to attack business competitors. You must stick to operating your own business in a sensible manner. Then if your competitors go broke anyway, too bad.

    My personal experience was with airlines. You can be guilty even acting alone.

    Suppose small carrier A announces a reasonable $100 price reduction on NYC to LAX fares. The other airlines study how to respond. Suddenly the biggest carrier, B, responds with an amazing $600 reduction on the same route.

    That would be read as a warning that B wants no price competition and will hurt others until it stops. B did not make the $600 cut based upon a rational pricing.

    B could argue it really was sound business. That they can make a reasonable profit on NYC-LAX even after the $600 reduction. And who knows? it might work. The lawyers and accountants get paid either way.

  14. K:


    change: "The Trusts themselves are gone, the word lingers on."

    to: "The Trusts that caused so much trouble in the 19th Century are gone, the word has a different meaning now."

    Trusts are legal, but they sure can't behave as they once did.

  15. Michael:

    Thanks for the info and time K. It seems people have made life more complicated than needed.

  16. tomw:

    I wonder if Jericho is close to the small town that "didn't have enough work for one lawyer, but more than enough work for two..." [chuckle]


  17. andy:

    Being ticketed for doing 58mph when sitting stopped in your driveway is "speeding?"..No these cops are a mafia of extortionist, plain and simple

  18. Mark:

    I spent many years patrolling small towns. No one wants tickets, but they do help keep speedy drivers in check. As for getting a ticket for going 58mph in his own driveway, I suspect the man meant, "I pulled into my driveway and got a ticket for going 58mph on the road a short time earlier." I ticketed plenty of people in their own driveways because plenty of people speed close to home. As for shooting a speeder who was protesting a ticket, I never did that. I was a pretty aggressive ticket writer when I was young, but I never wrote enough tickets to make it worthwhile for the town to keep me employed just for that. RICO? Anti-trust? Mafia? Get real. Cops are hired to do a job (law enforcement, criminal investigation, public service, etc) and generally do it pretty fairly. I expect that if one of you got hired at a company to manage accounts receivable and aggressively pursued debtors you wouldn't expect to be called a criminal. I'm not defending Jericho, AR (a town that size doesn't need more than one cop), but let's not paint the whole law enforcement community with such a broad brush.

  19. Tom Tiner:

    the part that makes all this so bad is that I can never rember reading that a police force is suppose to be a for profit organization. we need to take to money out of cops doing there job and back to portect and serve they need o rember they work for us and we need to be able to fire them if they do wrong
    hank you for letting me vent

  20. codehappykid:

    sabril: I agree that there is a racial angle, but you're only looking at part of the data to support your conclusion. The town had 171 black people, 8 white people, 4 mixed and 1 "other" at the time of US Census 2000. Keeping in mind that this is a small town in a Southern state, I doubt the 8 white people were living in a town run by black cops. I suspect it was the other way around. Remember that the police force consisted of 7 people.

    My hypothesis, based on this data and the earlier comments, is that the police force in Jericho, AR consisted of a group of white people, placed by the state to collapse the town. They've been collecting tickets this way for a long time. In Census 2000, 58 out of 140 eligible citizens of Jericho were employed, and there were definitely local businesses reported. The fact that now, people are saying this town has no businesses means something drove them all away. Well, over the course of ten years, if the people that would normally buy things are paying tickets instead, and those people get their money from jobs at said businesses, then the revenue of the businesses will be less than the cost of their operation, so of course they all shut down! Well, now, the outcry has forced the police to disband. No more speed trap. They bled it dry before they blew it open, though. Goodbye, Jericho.

  21. codehappykid:

    Mark: Agreed. This is not about whether law enforcement as a whole is good or bad. That's a whole other debate that I don't really care about because it's stupid. What matters here is that the particular police force in the town of Jericho operated in a way that is not proper for public servants. If we are to generalize at all from this town's situation, it should be to scrutinize towns of similar size and ratio of police to citizens. The idea of using the situation in Jericho to fan flames in Chicago or New York is ludicrous, and anyone who was thinking about doing that needs to stop now.

  22. Jay G:

    In small communities that like to make money by writing tickets, going "too slow" also will get you a ticket. The only decision the police officer following you has to make is whether you're speeding or going too slow. YOU WILL GET A TICKET!!!