Little Damascus found itself treading hot water last year after then-prosecutor Cody Hiland (following a state investigation) officially deemed it a speed trap and temporarily yanked the town's authority to issue traffic citations.
Speed-trapping is among the most bogus forms of municipal abuse (I call it thievery). Any community that adopts this underhanded scheme to raise money should lose its right to issue citations.
That said, I'm turning a spotlight on such questionable practices in the rural east Arkansas community of Parkin, population around 1,000.
The town's police for years have been stopping strings of motorists, especially along Highway 64, and charging them with vague "inattentive driving" citations as high as $250.
Joe Berry, the associate vice president for workforce development at Harrison's North Arkansas College, certainly didn't enjoy his personal encounter last April while passing through Parkin. Suddenly, blue lights appeared in his rear window. He pulled over wondering what he'd done worthy of being stopped. "I knew I was driving two miles over the posted limit, but I was just keeping up with everyone else in the flow of traffic," he said.
"The officer asked if I knew how fast I'd been going. I honestly told him two miles over the speed limit along with the others in line. But I sure didn't feel like I was speeding," Joe said.
The officer told Joe he was issuing him a citation for $250. "For what?" Joe asked, saying he'd never received a traffic ticket after decades of driving.
"The ticket is for inattentive driving," the policeman told him. "That's covered in our city code."
Joe was flabbergasted. "But I wasn't driving inattentively. There was nothing distracting me whatsoever."
The officer said the "good news" was Joe could pay the fine by calling the number for a private collection agency and the violation wouldn't go on his driving record.
That's what Joe did after arriving home and called. He asked the man taking his money if Parkin's inattentive driving code was for real. He was assured it was indeed a city law and mentioned that Joe was only one of several such citations out of Parkin.
"That's been a year ago and I'm still bothered by it," said Joe. "I believe a person who is legitimately driving inattentively should be ticketed. But this scheme is just flat wrong."
It strikes me the city fathers of Parkin may be using "inattentive driving" to get around the speed-trap statute, which is measured partly on the number of speeding tickets issued by how fast a driver was traveling, along with the percentage of the overall revenue a city draws from citations. Inattentive driving would eliminate the speed factor in any audit.
Joe is far from alone in getting citations from Parkin. Here are three edited examples cited on the National Motorists Association's website Speedtrap.org between 2013 and 2014 that also ranks it Arkansas' eighth worst speed trap.
March 2014: "I live in Parkin and I have never seen anything like it. I have been pulled over and ticketed. My wife has been pulled and ticketed. I questioned the officer why he pulled my wife and he told me she swerved going through the four-way stop. Seeing as there is only one, and because I waved goodbye to her from our porch, I knew she hadn't even driven through the four-way.
"When I told the officer that, he grinned and said maybe I got her coming out of the driveway. It's outrageous. ... When I got ticketed, I got the same as everyone. Inattentive driving, city code 269. He even had the nerve to explain to me that he was doing it to save me money by keeping it off my driving record! I've lived here most my life and people are afraid to drive to the store and don't dare drive on Highway 64. Day and night they are there. And if you think it's about public safety, you believe the moon is cheese. It's a disgrace for our town, our county, and all true police officers."
February 2013: "Parkin ... is a town in Cross County, Arkansas. The city police will clock you outside city limits then stop you and give you a ticket for inattentive driving to the tune of $250. ... The town is broke and cannot pay their bills, so stay out of Parkin."
April 2013: "Just like everyone else is saying, I got pulled over for going 10 miles over, and the [officer] 'cut me a deal' by giving me an inattentive driving to the tune of $225. ... I'm a youth minister and we were on the way back from a mission trip trying to get to Searcy before a snowstorm hit. Getting a ticket isn't a great example for the kids, so I tried to make things right. I called their police department three times trying to talk to the chief of police to apologize and also give my reasoning for slightly speeding. ... But the chief never returned my calls. Finally, after being ignored for three weeks I'm just paying the ticket."
I'm now eagerly awaiting the Cross County prosecutor to follow in Hiland's admirable footsteps and ask the Arkansas State Police to become highly attentive to this town's lucrative and chronic "inattentive driving" practice.
Mike Masterson is a longtime Arkansas journalist. Email him at email@example.com.
Editorial on 04/17/2018
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