The city of Ferguson has faced its share of problems in the months since the shooting death of unarmed teenager Michael Brown, ranging from protests to looting to, apparently, an ongoing budget crisis. The St. Louis suburb, already torn by tension over law enforcement-community relations, has announced plans to close its budget gap for the 2014-2015 fiscal year by boosting police ticketing -- in other words, fining an already anguished community in the name of "public safety" and dollar signs.
According to Bloomberg, Ferguson city officials plan on a million-dollar increase in public safety fines, which already make up the second largest source of revenue behind sales taxes. Still, the city is expected to be left with a shortfall of more than $4 million, and will likely stoke more hostility toward local law enforcement. Some already suspect Ferguson's dependence on police ticketing for revenue might be one of the factors that contributed to community unrest that had been building before Brown's death.
The city has also been criticized by state legislators for its efforts to increase revenue through fines, a practice that lawmakers have tried to reduce or end by introducing limits on municipalities at the state level. Bloomberg reports:
Two bills that were pre-filed last week in the State Senate would limit what municipalities can collect from public-safety fines.
‘‘For Ferguson to respond to all of this and say that increasing ticketing was a good idea is outrageous,” Scott Sifton, a Missouri state senator who sponsored one of the pieces of legislation, said in a telephone interview. [...]
Missouri State Treasurer Clint Zweifel, who also opposes the use of law enforcement citations to raise revenue, supports the legislation seeking to limit the practice.
“Increasing reliance on such fines is the wrong way to go, period,” he said in an e-mail. “Residents and neighborhoods are safer when police can focus on public safety, not a municipality’s need to protect a revenue stream.”
Ferguson, which has a 22 percent poverty rate according to most recent estimates, is reportedly one of multiple St. Louis county communities that plans to make residents pay for budget shortfalls.