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8/25/2006
Texas: Cameras, Seizures Fund Spending Sprees
Texas cities go on spending sprees with money seized from motorists.

Rowlett SWAT teamRed light cameras and cash seizures are taking money from motorists and funding uncontrolled spending sprees in small Texas cities. In Rowlett, a Dallas suburb with 44,000 residents, the city plans to expand its red light camera program by using automated ticketing on intersections along the busy State Highway 66. The latest budget submission assumes a large amount of revenue collected from tickets -- between $75 and $150 each -- will be used to fund a springtime festival, expanded public relations staff for the city, Rowlett Community Centre programs and a $50,000 study comparing Rowlett employee pay to neighboring cities. The city also plans an increase in property tax, giving it the second highest tax burden in the area. The city is already $27 million in debt.

"I think it's necessary and worth it," Mayor Shane Johnson told the Dallas Morning News.

In the South Texas city of San Juan, population 26,200, police have begun seizing ever greater amounts by taking both cash and vehicles from motorists. In 2005, officers collected $4400. This year, however, the force has collected $67,000. Pharr, with a population of 47,000, collected $422,000 last year. McAllen, a bigger city with 106,000 residents, collected $484,000. A federal appeals court ruling this week concluded that driving with a large amount of cash is sufficient justification for police to confiscate it, even if there is no evidence that a crime has been committed.

Each South Texas city has said its priority is to use the money to fund or expand a SWAT team, a trend that Cato Institute analyst Radley Balko finds disturbing. Balko argues in an extensive study of the issue that small cities misuse these paramilitary squads for routine police work, leading to botched raids that too often injure or kill innocent bystanders.

Source: Monetary police (McAllen Monitor (TX), 8/25/2006)

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