Fire Sale: Fire and Police Departments Charging Victims for Services

thumb_bag_of_moneyThe tough economic times are producing some highly questionable revenue measures by cities and states. One of the most problematic is the growing trend for towns, cities, and counties to charge citizens to use of police or fire services in emergencies. At least 24 states have such laws on the books and private contractors are pushing for every state to allow them to collect from crime and fire victims.

Part of this movement is being pushed by private contractors who want a percentage of the take from collecting reimbursement from victims. They generally demand 10% of the cut. While Georgia, Indiana, Missouri, Pennsylvania and Tennessee have banned “crash taxes,” other states have proven ripe for this sale’s pitch and citizens are being hit with demands for payment for assistance that was historically viewed as an essential government service. Indeed, the whole principle of taxes was to fund common necessities like schools, police, fire, and other basic services.

For example, after Luke Gutilla lost control of his motorcycle and suffered a leg injury, he was billed for nearly $2,200 for the services of seven firefighters, an assistant chief, two fire vehicles, three police cruises and three officers.

Every state should ban this practice outright. While there have been efforts to collect reimbursement from people who intentionally or knowingly violate restrictions (like go into remote areas without a permit or provisions), these cases remain rare. They are usually reserved to repeat offenders or the most egregious cases.

If allowed, politicians can treat taxes as their own discretionary fund while forcing citizens to pay for their use of basic services. Now, a citizen would have to debate whether calling the fire department is the most efficient response. That would hardly be good for the neighbors to have a cost-cutting owner try to put out a fire on his own — only to have it spread to other houses. Others might hesitate to call the police about a prowler if the officers are going to be billing on the clock and presenting them with a bill for services rendered. It is bad enough that some officers are suing families for injuries suffered in slip and falls during emergency calls.

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6 thoughts on “Fire Sale: Fire and Police Departments Charging Victims for Services”

  1. I gather that we don’t need to pay our taxes anymore if one gets charged per event.

  2. Anyone ever seen the film “Mother Jugs & Speed?”

    The film is based on the premise of ambulance companies competing to collect fees back in the 1970’s.

  3. This sounds a lot like the Sarah Palin rape kit payment problem. I guess I should not be surprised anymore at any of this. It is probably related to the conservative attempts to privatize all government services.

  4. I imagine there are insurance companies ready to step in and protect us from civil servants’ bills. 80/20 with a $500 out of pocket sounds about right…

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