Matthew Prensky
Matthew Prensky · December 4, 2023

ARLINGTON, Va.—Today, the Institute for Justice (IJ) condemns the Eastville Police Department for its taxation by citation ploy, merging the department’s duty to protect with its need to fund operations at the costs of motorists’ civil liberties. 

“The practices the WTKR report exposed demonstrate the danger of coupling fines with police and city budgets,” said Anthony Sanders, director of IJ’s Center for Judicial Engagement. “Traffic enforcement is a legitimate public safety concern but there is no reason that the fines it generates should go right back into the pockets of the police. This policing for profit raises grave constitutional issues where the police target people not for public safety but to pad their own budgets. It should be serve and protect, not ticket to collect.” 

The Eastville Police Department in Eastville, Virginia has issued tens of thousands of traffic citations in the past three years, despite the town only having a population of 300. As recently as 2021, the Eastern Shore Post reported revenue from the department’s citation activity accounted for more than 70% of Eastville’s total income. Various courts have recognized that generating more than 10% of revenue from fines and fees raises serious constitutional concerns. 

These types of policing for profit programs aren’t just potentially unconstitutional, they also erode community trust and harm public safety. A 2019 study performed by IJ showed a heavy reliance on fines or fees can reduce a community’s trust and cooperation with its police department. An unrelated 2018 study found that cities overly reliant on fines solve violent and property crimes at significantly lower rates. Nationally, one 2019 report estimated that nearly 600 jurisdictions generate at least 10% of their general fund’s revenue through fines and forfeitures. 

IJ is the nation’s leader in litigating against fines and fees abuses. IJ has sued dozens of local governments who were using their power to enforce traffic, property code, and other ordinances to raise revenue rather than solely to protect the public. Our litigation includes, Timbs v. Indiana, in which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the U.S. Constitution’s protection against excessive fines applied to state and local governments.  

About the Institute for Justice 

Through strategic litigation, training, communication, activism, legislative outreach and research, the Institute for Justice advances a rule of law under which individuals can control their destinies as free and responsible members of society. IJ litigates to secure economic liberty, educational choice, private property rights, freedom of speech and other vital individual liberties, and to restore constitutional limits on the power of government.