The Linndale police department's infamous reign as the toll-taking trolls under the bridge is fading into Cleveland history.
The tiny village with the legendary speed trap, familiar to I-71 drivers since the 1960s, has eased up on freeway enforcement.
“The focus is on protection of the village,” says police chief Tim Franczak.
But those 783 tickets — about 15 a week — are a big drop from 2013, when Linndale police cited 2,050 people for speeding in roughly the last 10 months of the year.
“I don’t see a need to maintain a high level of patrol during the day [on I-71],” says Franczak, who took the chief job in summer 2014. Other law enforcement agencies also patrol the freeway, he notes. “Our officers may focus more on evening hours: traffic enforcement, drug interdiction, things of that nature.”
Linndale, which boasts an official, inflated population of 179, used to make $800,000 a year off court fines — 80 percent of its village budget. But when the state closed Linndale’s mayor’s court in March 2013, all its cases went to Parma Municipal Court. The microvillage went through layoffs later that year.
In 2014, Linndale collected only $151,839 in disbursements from the Parma court — one-fifth its old haul.
Today, Linndale’s cash flow from the Parma court is based on a shrinking number of new traffic and criminal cases, plus two batches of old cases it forwarded to the Parma court.
In July 2013, the Parma court canceled about 800 defunct Linndale court warrants for defendants who'd failed to appear and opened new cases about the years-old traffic incidents.
“What we tried to do was send letters saying your case has been transferred,” says Chris Castro, a manager at the Parma court, “and you have a chance to get right with us.”
Linndale is also due to receive money from 1,500 other old cases, in which a convicted and sentenced defendant still owes fines. The Parma court worked through that case backlog as 2014 ended, filing the last 832 Linndale transfers in November and December.
Not all of Linndale’s practices translated well in Parma’s court. Castro says the court has reduced fines on Linndale defendants cited for “financial responsibility” — failure to provide proof of insurance. Linndale police sent 1,172 financial responsibility citations to the court in 2013 and 611 in 2014. That citation requires a court appearance.
Court officials felt Linndale police were over-citing drivers.
“It’s just a bullshit charge,” says Castro. “They wouldn’t even ask them for their card. They would just mark down that they never showed it.”
Franczak strongly denies this. “No, that wouldn’t happen,” the chief says. All financial responsibility citations come from an officer's request that a driver produce proof of insurance, he says.
Despite Linndale’s tightening budget, Franczak says he’s maintaining a police force of three full-timers and about 20 part-timers. Some are volunteer officers, part of a police reserve, he says.
With traffic fines declining, Linndale’s budget will likely continue to shrink. Property and income taxes brought in only about $85,000 in 2013, according to the state’s annual audit of the village, released in September.
The village’s traffic camera program on Memphis Avenue, which began in late 2013, will likely end in 2015. A new state law, which takes effect in March, severely restricts traffic camera programs statewide by requiring an officer to be present to issue citations. Franczak says that law won’t affect his force — which implies that Linndale’s cameras will shut down.
Still, Linndale isn’t likely to go away. State laws prevent forced mergers of even the tiniest, poorest towns.
“It is the Village’s belief,” says the state audit, “that with these austerity measures, the Village will be able to survive with 24 hour police protection and basic community services with no problem.”
Click here to read Cleveland Magazine’s 2011 story about Linndale’s inflated census figures. The story helped inspire the abolition of mayor’s courts in tiny towns.