The Ferguson police department is strapped for cash and allegedly breaks the law to get it

AP748818036139AP/Charlie RiedelPolice arrest a man as they disperse a protest.

The law enforcement practices of the Ferguson, Missouri police department are racist, focus primarily on generating revenue, and frequently violate the Constitution, the Department of Justice concluded after a six-month investigation into the Ferguson Police Department.

The Justice Department found the city’s law enforcement practices are racially skewed and largely motivated by increasing revenue via municipal fines and fees.

The Department made this conclusion after interviewing local Ferguson residents and on-duty police officers, reviewing over 35,000 pages of police records and internal communications, analysing internal data on stops, searches, citations, and arrests, and observing four separate sessions of Ferguson Municipal Court. Here are some of the report’s most damning allegations:

  • Public safety is secondary in the minds of Ferguson police officers, whose performance is assessed solely by the number of citations they issue and how much revenue they can generate for the city. This has led officers to see certain (predominantly African-American) neighborhoods in Ferguson “less as constituents to be protected than as potential offenders and sources of revenue,” according to the Justice Department.
  • The majority of arrest warrants issued from Ferguson municipal courts result in the incarceration of people who have failed to pay their fines for minor offenses such as parking infractions and traffic tickets. “Violations that would normally not result in a penalty of imprisonment can, and frequently do, lead to municipal warrants, arrests, and jail time,” the report states.
  • Ferguson police practices overwhelmingly target African-Americans. Officers are also much more likely to use force against African-Americans, a disparity that “cannot be explained by any difference in the rate at which people of different races violate the law” and results exclusively from racial bias, according to the report.

Maximizing revenue seems to be the goal of Ferguson’s law enforcement activities, according to the report, as evidenced by the city’s high fines and overly aggressive enforcement. While other municipalities’ parking fines generally range from $US5 to $US100, Ferguson’s is $US102, and the fine for “Weeds/Tall Grass” can be anywhere from $US77-$US102. In surrounding cities, it’s as low as $US5.

Internal communications indicate the extent to which the city is preoccupied with revenue generation: “Unless ticket writing ramps up significantly before the end of the year, it will be hard to significantly raise collections next year,” the city’s finance director wrote in one email to Police Chief Jackson. “What are your thoughts? Given that we are looking at a substantial sales tax shortfall, it’s not an insignificant issue.”

The Ferguson Police Department (FPD) has sent a message that it’s ok to break the law to make arrests, the report says.

“FPD’s weak systems of supervision, review, and accountability 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 report states.

The report found that much of the FPD’s law enforcement activity — over 90% of which targets African-Americans — is carried out illegally.

The FPD routinely stops people without reasonable suspicion, arrests them without probable cause, and uses excessive force in violation of residents’ Fourth Amendment rights, according to the report. Ferguson officers routinely fail to even write up a report or obtain an incident number when they make an arrest, and when an officer uses force, it usually goes unreported, according to the report.

“They have come to rely on ECWs, specifically Tasers, where less force — or no force at all — would do,” the report notes. “They also release canines on unarmed subjects unreasonably and before attempting to use force less likely to cause injury.”

The report found that for every dog bite incident where the race of the person bitten was available, that person was African-American.

The city issued this statement on Wednesday: “At this time, the city is currently reviewing the report and its findings,”

We will update this post with any additional statements the city releases.

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