Analysis: 34 cities in Georgia collected at least 20 percent of their total revenue from fines and forfeitures
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Analysis: 34 cities in Georgia collected at least 20 percent of their total revenue from fines and forfeitures

Five cities in Georgia—Lenox, Warwick, Oliver, Hiltonia, and Rock Ford—collected at least 50 percent of their total revenues from fines and forfeitures.

A new Reason Foundation data visualization finds that many cities in Georgia routinely collect large shares of their budget from law enforcement revenues. The visualization highlights the cities of Warwick, Oliver, and Snellville as examples, but the practice of policing for profit extends far beyond these three cities. 

Local governments in Georgia collected a total of $158,189,161 and an average of $330,940 in fines and forfeitures in 2019. Thirty-four cities in Georgia collected at least 20 percent of their total government revenue from fines and forfeitures (Table 1). Of those, five cities—Lenox, Warwick, Oliver, Hiltonia, and Rock Ford—collected at least 50 percent of their total revenues from fines and forfeitures in 2019. 

On a per capita basis, four cities—Lenox, Jacksonville, Warwick, and Tallulah Falls—collected at least $1,000 in fines and forfeitures per resident. An additional five cities—East Ellijay, Dillard, Darien, and Rocky Ford—collected between $500 and $999 in fines and forfeitures per resident.

Eighty-one cities in Georgia, out of a total of 478 cities included in the analysis, collected at least $100 per resident in 2019. Fifty-nine cities were excluded from the analysis due to missing or unreliable data.

The analysis focuses on 2019 data from the Georgia Department of Community Affairs’ Report on Local Government Finances (RLGF) because 2019 is the year with the most recent and complete data available before the COVID-19 pandemic. RLGF data from 2020-2022 reveals similar patterns, but many cities are missing from the data for these years. 

In total dollars, it’s not surprising that the biggest cities collect the most law enforcement revenue. Atlanta collected a whopping $25,000,000 in fines and forfeitures in 2019. Sandy Springs, Duluth, and Marietta each collected between $2,500,000 and $3,000,000 in fines and forfeitures that year. An additional 37 cities in Georgia collected over $1 million in fines and forfeitures in 2019. 

Georgia stands out among the 50 states for having a large number of cities reliant on revenue from fines and forfeitures. This distinction is likely influenced by the state’s policies governing how local authorities can generate income from traffic citations and ordinance violations.

A recent report from the Institute for Justice examined 52 legal factors at the state level linked to municipal capacity to derive revenue from fines and fees. Georgia emerged as the lowest-ranked state, suggesting a need for reforms that establish further safeguards against enforcement practices driven by revenue motives.

Alabama recently placed a cap on municipal law enforcement revenue so that local governments can only derive a maximum of 10% of their budgets from fines and forfeitures. Any additional revenue goes to the state’s Crime Victims Compensation Fund and Fair Trial Tax Fund.

Georgia law currently allows the Department of Public Safety to revoke speed detection device permits from cities where speeding ticket revenue exceeds 35% of the police agency budget. However, the law is rarely enforced and, as this data analysis reveals, it is insufficient to rein in policing for profit in Georgia. State lawmakers should consider stronger limits, such as those recently adopted in Alabama. 

The fundamental duties of police are to protect public safety and promote the fair administration of justice. Local government reliance on law enforcement to generate revenue creates inappropriate incentives that undermine these core responsibilities. Law enforcement agencies and court systems often prioritize “taxation by citation” over their essential public safety functions when incentives are improperly aligned. Research also suggests that reliance on fines and forfeitures undermines public safety by diverting law enforcement efforts from more serious threats.

This behavior may further erode the public’s trust and confidence in the justice system. So, while reform efforts may reduce local government revenues, curtailing revenue-oriented policing would improve public safety and enhance the public’s trust in local law enforcement.

Table 1. Georgia Cities Collecting Over 20% of General Revenue from Fines and Forfeitures
Lenox79.70%$2,060 $1,522,327 
Warwick76.90%$1,067 $554,703 
Oliver64.10%$409 $157,380 
Hiltonia57.60%$441 $142,498 
Rocky Ford54.60%$532 $100,564 
Stillmore48.20%$409 $216,540 
Morven44.80%$405 $225,432 
Darien43.20%$637 $1,420,236 
Dillard41.10%$746 $237,825 
Poulan39.40%$433 $331,623 
Ashburn39.20%$392 $1,445,603 
Stapleton39.00%$421 $176,041 
Mountain City38.90%$227 $240,178 
Tunnel Hill36.60%$193 $277,056 
Blythe36.00%$289 $198,574 
Omega34.50%$428 $520,744 
Graham34.40%$302 $69,403 
Hahira34.20%$369 $1,089,105 
Remerton32.60%$423 $469,984 
Tallulah Falls29.10%$1,065 $129,963 
Whigham28.00%$166 $89,961 
Bartow27.80%$346 $77,824 
Ludowici26.50%$139 $329,819 
Hoboken26.10%$236 $145,395 
Sparks24.60%$195 $481,478 
Clayton24.30%$282 $555,702 
East Ellijay24.10%$753 $444,978 
Resaca23.90%$112 $108,964 
Adel21.80%$184 $972,512 
Leslie21.00%$123 $71,756 
Baldwin20.70%$167 $588,881 
Richland20.70%$164 $222,072 
Varnell20.60%$85 $211,539 
Pelham20.20%$169 $598,509 

For more information, please visit, “Data shows how Georgia municipalities aggressively use law enforcement to generate revenue.