Sunday, September 6, 2009

Tiny-town government run amok

The dateline is Jericho, Arkansas, population 184, and the story is downright bizarre. Town's fire chief appears in traffic court to protest speeding citation. It is his second such appearance in the same day. Scuffle between fire chief and seven city police officers--that's right, seven--ensues. Fire chief is shot from behind by one of the officers.

While that's the episode that has brought tiny Jericho so much attention in the past week or so, it is perhaps not the most interesting aspect of what's been happening in Jericho. What is interesting to me is that a "city" of fewer than 200 persons has seven police officers. Indeed, it might raise an eyebrow or two that so small a population center has a police department at all. Apparently, Jericho's police department was established sometime in the 1990s, with a grant; previously, the city had relied on the Crittenden County Sheriff's office for public safety.

But the city's police department does not seem to have been established with public safety in mind. Rather, it was apparently established to generate revenue from traffic tickets. Its "success" in that endeavor has long been the source of tension between officers and residents. Referring to the fact that the town's last business recently closed, one former resident who said he moved from Jericho because the police harassment became unbearable is quoted as saying "You can't even buy a loaf of bread, but we've got seven police officers." Another told of getting a ticket for traveling 58 mph--in his driveway.

Also of interest is the fact that the fines associated with the numerous traffic tickets cannot be accounted for and, in fact, the city has recently defaulted on the loans and/or leases by which it purchased and possessed police cruisers and fire trucks. With all the attention that the late August schooting has brought to Jericho and these matters, the city's police chief has temporarily disbanded the force. The town judge has made void all pending citations and resigned her post.

With the police force and the traffic court out of commission for a while, the town's residents can--ironically--finally get some peace and quiet. It makes me wonder if an absence of checks and balance in small town government creates greater potential for abuses and greater challenges to uncovering them.

1 comment:

Slice of Pink said...

I just came across this update on the story at the Arkansas Online:

"The small-town east Arkansas fire chief shot during a scuffle in court now faces two felony battery charges stemming from the incident."

Click here for more.