Indeed, Ferguson enjoyed so much success in issuing tickets and fines that Ferguson, population 21,000, was ranked in the top eight of the 80 municipal courts in St. Louis County by having more than $1 million in revenue in 2010, the report said.
When Ferguson court revenues exceeded $2 million in 2012, the city manager responded to the police chief in an internal email: “Awesome! Thanks!” according to the federal report.
Involvement Of Entire Court System
Even municipal judges were pressured to boost revenue.
“The city has made clear to the police chief and the municipal judge that revenue generation must also be a priority in court operations,” the federal investigation found.
The city finance director said in a 2011 report that the municipal judge had been successful since 2003 in increasing court collections, and that internal 2011 city report noted a judge’s statement that “none of these changes could have taken place without the cooperation of the court clerk, the chief of police, and the prosecutor’s office,” the Justice Department investigation found.
Cash Filled The City Treasury.
By 2013, revenue from enforcing municipal codes reached $2.46 million, the federal report said.
By 2015, the city anticipated that fines and fees would account for 23% of the budget, or $3.09 million of $13.26 million in general fund expenses, the Justice Department found.
Just five years earlier, court fines and fees made up only 12% of the budget, or $1.38 million of $11.07 million in general fund revenues, the Justice Department found.
Among The Highest Fines
The fines were among the highest of surrounding municipalities. For example, area parking fines ranged from $5 to $100, but Ferguson’s parking fine was $102.
A fine for “weeds/tall grass” was $5 in one nearby city, but Ferguson’s fine ranged from $77 to $102, the Justice Department found.
The federal government made a forceful conclusion:
“City, police and court officials for years have worked in concert to maximize revenue at every stage of the enforcement process, beginning with how fines and fine enforcement processes are established,” the federal report said.
The Mayor’s Response
After the Justice Department’s announcement this week, Ferguson Mayor James Knowles told reporters that he, Police Chief Tom Jackson and City Attorney Stephanie Karr met with federal officials about their findings and initiated several initiatives, including reforms to the municipal court.
Knowles said municipal judges have created a docket for alleged offenders having trouble paying fines.
Also, a defendant may ask a judge or prosecutor about different payment plans or alternative sentencing, the mayor said. Defendants have been required to pay an entire fine at once, regardless of ability to pay, the federal report said.
The city also passed an ordinance last September to cap municipal court revenues at 15% of the city’s overall budget, the mayor said. That figure is half Missouri’s legal limit, he added.
All the reforms are intended to “move this city, its residents and our entire community forward,” the mayor said.
Living With Absurdity And Fear
Back at her home, Loistine Hoskin recalled the height of absurdity in her fight against the city, which occurred shortly after her husband, Calvin, died in 2008 of complications from paralysis he suffered in a car accident three years earlier. She had been his caregiver.
She appeared in court to appeal the citation, but an officer arrested her and put her in the back of the squad car.
Failing to appear in court, she said.
She spent four hours in jail. She insists she made every court date.
For now, she lives in fear of the police, even at home.
“We just got to a point where we said we’re just not going to have anyone over — because they were fearful when they left they would get some ticket, and they didn’t even live here,” Hoskin said.
By: Michael Martinez, Alexandra Meeks And Ed Lavandera