Does St. Louis County Need Crime To Fund Local Governments?

In Ferguson, located in St. Louis County, police fines and citations made up about $3 million in the city’s budget. The police department quickly became a revenue center as police were pressured into issuing as many fines as possible, according to a report from the Department of Justice. Even though the federal government has announced plans to essentially rip apart the police department and rebuild from the ground up, the rest of St. Louis County continues to have a financial dependency on minor crime.

According to the New York Times, Calverton Park, also in St. Louis County, received 40 percent of its city revenue from court fines and fees. Likewise, in the little town of Edmundson, five miles away from Ferguson, the local police collect on average $600 in fines from each person. In the end, the DoJ saw the cycle of endless tickets as being more about the money than about creating safer roads.

Ferguson may have been the center of the DoJ investigation, but had Michael Brown been shot anywhere else in St. Louis County, the Times suggests, the Department of Justice would have found the same outrageous system of citations to support the city.

In fact, according to the non-profit organization Better Together, Ferguson might be bad, but it doesn’t even rank in the top 20 municipalities for percentage of revenue from fees and fines in just St. Louis County.

The DoJ report and the New York Times both say that these citations are disproportionately levied against African Americans. The Times reports that an African American in Ferguson is 1.4 times more likely to be pulled over by police than a white person. Once they are, three to four citations is fairly routine.

But, that’s actually relatively fair for St. Louis County. On the high end, in University City, an African American is 3.1 times more likely to be pulled over.

All the numbers lead to one question: Do local governments need minor criminal offenses to support local government? More specifically, do they need a population of marginalized people to “pick up the slack” from insufficient tax revenues?

California does.

Outside of St. Louis, and despite a liberal facade, California relies on having prisoners to fight its wildfires every year. According to PrisonPolicy.org, the state saves about $200 million a year by paying prisoners one dollar an hour to do the dangerous work.

The prisoners take the jobs in exchange for shorter sentences, but the program itself hurts the state’s ability to reduce its inmate numbers. Despite calls from federal judges to release more prisoners — California’s overcrowded, extremely dangerous prisons have been ruled unconstitutionally cruel and unusual — the state government continues to cling to its ultra-cheap firefighters, according to TakePart.

As for St. Louis County, Ferguson will have to learn to make due with a large part of its revenue taken away. As previously reported by the Inquisitr, Attorney General Eric Holder has proposed severe changes to the Ferguson’s police department, uprooting the system and putting in strong federal oversight.

If Ferguson succeeds in reforming its police while maintaining its budget, the town might become a model for the rest of St. Louis County. A strong, non-fined-based revenue plan would take a lot of the economic pressure off of African American communities that are disproportionately paying for local governance.

Then again, if the numbers simply don’t work, Ferguson might export new, smarter ways to tax impoverished communities.

In any case, next time the residents of St. Louis County see an African American running a red light or speeding, hopefully, they’ll remember to say thanks for supporting the community.

[Image Credit: Ildar Sagdejev/Wikimedia Commons]