Ferguson, Mo.’s “culture of petty fines”

Race is one reason for constant police hassle in towns like Ferguson. Revenue is another. In a Cato post yesterday, I note that court fees are the second biggest source of revenue for the small city, and that the Ferguson municipal court last year issued three arrest warrants and presided over 1.5 cases per household. As a result, many residents of the town “wind up interacting constantly with law enforcement because of a culture of petty fines” — enough to make for tense relations between the community and the police even aside from the racial divide. Similarly: Alex Tabarrok, who wrote on related issues two years ago. More: Amy Alkon; Brian Doherty at Reason says his colleague Scott Shackford reaches a lower estimate of the importance of fines in the Ferguson budget.

P.S. The ArchCity Defenders report on problems with North County municipal courts is online (PDF). And even before Ferguson blew up, there had been stirrings of reform on some of the courts’ user-unfriendly practices [Post-Dispatch]


  • This statistic is a big “so what!” Why? Although you spin this “shocking news” to make it seem that the poor downtrodden minorities of Ferguson are the recipients of undue police attention, the same thing happens everywhere.

    In NYC, the number of moving violations and parking tickets makes revenue a reason for constant police hassle. In fact projected revenue from fines is a line item in the NYC budget. According to the Comptroller’s Comprehensive Annual Financial Report and the Mayor’s Management Report (both for 2010), shows that the City issued 10,709,000 parking summons, which generated $604,050,097 in revenue. This does not include the moving violations issued in NYC. It does not include the Environmental Control Board violations where many of the summons are for the “gum wrapper” in the glass recyclable bin, or the Building Dept. violations for a hairline crack in a building’s facade. Keep in mind that each of these City departments maintains hearing offices in each borough that are operated in a bakery-like manner: Take a number, have a seat, and wait until it is called for your hearing (usually an hour’s wait).

    Every city seems to racketeer in a similar manner. So why should Ferguson, MO be any different? Putting a racial spin on a universal race-neutral scummy revenue policy of municipalities is just plain wrong.

  • VMS,

    I agree with what you posted…but you really just argued Walter’s position in THIS post. “Race is one reason for constant police hassle in towns like Ferguson. Revenue is another.” AND “…even aside from the racial divide” from his post.

  • @VMS Racial spin comes from the tiny fact that whites in Fergusson are not treated the same way. They tend not to get those petty fines. It would be different if they would be treated the same way as blacks, but they are not.

  • @VMS,

    By using NYC as your example, you only reinforce the author’s point.

    NYC has the second highest number of cops per capita of any city in the country, only DC is has more.

    The national average for cops per capita is 17 officers per 10K population.

    Ferguson is ~26 (53 offices / ~21K pop)
    NYC is 59.5
    DC is 68.5

    The main reason for any city to be that far above the average is using the PD as a revenue source through petty and not so petty fines.

  • […] I and many other writers have noted lately, the town of Ferguson like several nearby suburbs in St. Louis […]

  • […] Perhaps because it uses police for revenue collection rather than public safety. Last year the tiny town of Beverly Hills issued six traffic tickets and two ordinance violations for each resident. An investigation of the string of towns that includes Ferguson, Mo. finds heavy reliance on speed cameras and intensive traffic enforcement on sometimes-tiny stretches of road, oversized police forces, various anecdotes of assault and misconduct, and, in the case of the town of Edmundson, Mo., a memo from the mayor in April 2014 ordering the writing of more tickets. [Lisa Riordan Seville, NBC News; earlier] […]