The Ferguson Report, Part 2: African-Americans: No Longer Cash Cow for the City?

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Investigation was launched under then AG Eric Holder

Ferguson Cops Relentlessly Preyed on Victims — But Things Are Changing

This article is from WhoWhatWhy.org

In our excerpts from The Ferguson Report, Part 1: Breathing While Black, and Other Offenses, we presented a number of appalling incidents that showed what African-Americans were subjected to every day by the Ferguson Police Department. This behavior was driven by racism at its rawest. But there was another dimension to this predatory behavior: Money. The more tickets the police wrote, the more money they earned for the city. And the more brownie points they earned for themselves.

And the poor got poorer.

In the comments above, we use the past tense. We do not know how much of this sort of thing is still going on. We do know that Ferguson is going through the paroxysms of dramatic transition.

Thanks to The Ferguson Report, many reforms are in the works, and some have already taken place. For example, the lowered cap on revenue from traffic tickets: It can now make up only 12.5 percent of a city’s operating revenue in St. Louis County — down from the previously permitted 30 percent.

Other reforms include the replacement of the city manager, the police chief, and the municipal judge. This new judge, Donald McCullin — an African-American — recently revealed a plan to withdraw all arrest warrants issued before December 31, 2015. About 10,000 people will be affected. Those who had been arrested will receive new court dates, new pretrial options, or other options, such as payment plans or community service. And suspended licenses will be reinstated if they resulted from a failure to appear in court or a failure to pay a fine.

Judge McCullin said that the “changes should continue the process of restoring confidence in the court, alleviating fears of the consequences of appearing in court, and giving many residents a fresh start.”

Many deep-rooted and systemic problems remain. And many new ones will be created by these chaotic changes, some anticipated, some not. More adjustments will have to be made. Its a matter of breaking many eggs to make an omelet. A study group for the Missouri Supreme Court is contemplating additional areas of reform. They say they will release a final report on December 1, 2015.

The selections below have been edited and compressed to fit space requirements.

EXCERPTS FROM THE FERGUSON REPORT

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. In a February 2011 report requested by the City Council at a Financial Planning Session and drafted by Ferguson’s Finance Director, with contributions from Chief Jackson, the Finance Director reported on “efforts to increase efficiencies and maximize collection” by the municipal court.

FPD officers routinely issue multiple citations during a single stop, often for the same violation. Issuing three or four charges in one stop is not uncommon in Ferguson. Officers sometimes write six, eight, or, in at least one instance, fourteen citations for a single encounter. Indeed, officers told us that some compete to see who can issue the largest number of citations during a single stop.

The report included an extensive comparison of Ferguson’s fines to those of surrounding municipalities and noted with approval that Ferguson’s fines are “at or near the top of the list.”More Tickets, Higher Fines

The chart noted, for example, that while other municipalities’ parking fines generally range from $5 to $100, Ferguson’s is $102.

The chart also observed that the charge for “Weeds/Tall Grass” was as little as $5 in one city, but in Ferguson it ranged from $77 to $102.

Along with its high fine schedule, the City directs FPD to aggressively enforce the municipal code. City and police leadership pressure officers to write citations, independent of any public safety need, and rely on citation productivity to fund the City budget.

In an email from March 2010, the Finance Director wrote to Chief Jackson that “unless ticket writing ramps up significantly before the end of the year, it will be hard to significantly raise collections next year. What are your thoughts? Given that we are looking at a substantial sales tax shortfall, it’s not an insignificant issue.”

Chief Jackson responded that the City would see an increase in fines once more officers were hired and that he could target the $1.5 million forecast. Significantly, Chief Jackson stated that he was also “looking at different shift schedules which will place more officers on the street, which in turn will increase traffic enforcement per shift.”

Shortly thereafter, FPD switched to the 12-hour shift schedule for its patrol officers, which FPD continues to use. Law enforcement experience has shown that this schedule makes community policing more difficult — a concern that we have also heard directly from FPD officers.

Nonetheless, while FPD heavily considered the revenue implications of the 12-hour shift and certain other factors, such as its impact on overtime and sick time usage, we have found no evidence that FPD considered the consequences for positive community engagement.

The City’s 2014 budget report itself stated that since December 2010, “the percent of [FPD] resources allocated to traffic enforcement has increased,” and “[a]s a result, traffic enforcement related collections increased” in the following two years.

FPD has communicated to officers not only that they must focus on bringing in revenue, but that the department has little concern with how officers do this. FPD’s weak systems of supervision, review, and accountability, discussed below in Part III.A., have sent a potent message to officers that their violations of law and policy will be tolerated, provided that officers continue to be “productive” in making arrests and writing citations.

The 2015 budget report added that even after those initial increases FPD in fiscal year 2012–2013 was once again “successful in increasing their proportion of resources dedicated to traffic enforcement” and increasing collections.

As directed, FPD supervisors and line officers have undertaken the aggressive code enforcement required to meet the City’s revenue generation expectations.

Competition! Who Can Issue the Most Citations for a Single Stop?

FPD officers routinely issue multiple citations during a single stop, often for the same violation. Issuing three or four charges in one stop is not uncommon in Ferguson. Officers sometimes write six, eight, or, in at least one instance, fourteen citations for a single encounter.

Indeed, officers told us that some compete to see who can issue the largest number of citations during a single stop.

The February 2011 report to the City Council notes that the acting prosecutor — with the apparent approval of the Police Chief — “talked with police officers about ensuring all necessary summonses are written for each incident, i.e. when DWI charges are issued, are the correct companion charges being issued, such as speeding, failure to maintain a single lane, no insurance, and no seat belt, etc.”

The prosecutor noted that “[t]his is done to ensure that a proper resolution to all cases is being achieved and that the court is maintaining the correct volume for offenses occurring within the city.”

Notably, the “correct volume” of law enforcement is uniformly presented in City documents as related to revenue generation, rather than in terms of what is necessary to promote public safety.

Each month, the municipal court provides FPD supervisors with a list of the number of tickets issued by each officer and each squad. Supervisors have posted the list inside the police station, a tactic officers say is meant to push them to write more citations.

Rewards for Issuing Citations, Regardless of Legality

Patrol Division supervisors monitor productivity through monthly “self-initiated activity reports” and instruct officers to increase production when those reports show they have not issued enough citations. In April 2010, for example, a patrol supervisor criticized a sergeant for his squad issuing a mere 25 tickets in a month.

In November 2011, the same patrol supervisor wrote to his patrol lieutenants and sergeants that “[t]he monthly self-initiated activity totals just came out,” and they “may want to advise [their] officers who may be interested in the open detective position that one of the categories to be considered when deciding on the eligibility list will be self-initiated activity.”

The supervisor continued: “Have any of you heard comments such as, why should I produce when I know I’m not getting a raise? Well, some people are about to find out why.”

The email concludes with the instruction to “[k]eep in mind, productivity (self- initiated activity) cannot decline for next year.”FPD has communicated to officers not only that they must focus on bringing in revenue, but that the department has little concern with how officers do this.

FPD’s weak systems of supervision, review, and accountability, discussed below in Part III.A., have sent a potent message to officers that their violations of law and policy will be tolerated, provided that officers continue to be “productive” in making arrests and writing citations.Punishments for Not Being “Productive” 

Please see WhoWhatWhy for the rest of the report

 

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