Ferguson Doubles Down on Municipal Piracy

Ferguson plans more municipal piracy: to increase revenue by increasing police ticketing.

Stop Sign Cameras

As I wrote about awhile back, much of the anger at police in Ferguson was arguably not driven by stories of police brutality or excessive force. The anger was driven by a patchwork of small towns that generate revenue by repeatedly fining people who don’t have means to pay. The result is an inordinate number of people with arrest warrants in various towns who have not committed serious crimes, and occasionally a judge losing his job because he is not shaking loose enough revenue for the town.

I summarized the situation, as reported by Radley Balko, in the post, “The Real Problem behind Ferguson: Municipal Pirates.”

Thus, the latest news from Ferguson blows my mind. Bloomberg News reports: “Ferguson to Increase Police Ticketing to Close City’s Budget Gap.”

Ferguson, Missouri, which is recovering from riots following the August shooting death of an unarmed black teenager by a white policeman, plans to close a budget gap by boosting revenue from public-safety fines and tapping reserves.

The strategy by the St. Louis suburb, which suffered a second round of violent protests last month after a grand jury refused to indict the police officer, may risk worsening community relations with increased citations and weakening its credit standing by reducing a rainy-day fund.

To close a projected deficit for fiscal 2014, which ended June 30, the municipality will deplete a $10 million capital-projects reserve, Jeffrey Blume, Ferguson’s finance director, said in a telephone interview. For the current year, the city is budgeting for higher receipts from police-issued tickets.

“There are a number of things going on in 2014 and one is a revenue shortfall that we anticipate making up in 2015,” Blume said. “There’s about a million-dollar increase in public-safety fines to make up the difference.”

Revenue from violations, which already represents the city’s second-largest source of cash after sales taxes, will rise to 15.7 percent of receipts in fiscal 2015, from a projected 11.8 percent this year, he said. In 2013, fines brought in $2.2 million, or 11.8 percent of the city’s $18.62 million in annual revenue, according to budget documents.

Notice that this is all done in shameless full view. No one is saying, “Our town is becoming far too unsafe because of uninsured drivers and unsafe driving, so we need the police to crack down and teach people to obey traffic law.”

No, they are openly saying the purpose of this “law enforcement” is to raise revenue. You can no longer call it an “open secret” that police are merely revenue collectors. They aren’t keeping it secret at all.