Dismantling Policing for Profit: How to Build on Missouri’s Post-Ferguson Court Reforms


In December 2014, Black people were 96 percent of known arrests made exclusively because of municipal warrants, even though they made up only 67 percent of Ferguson.

After the killing of Michael Brown by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, the Department of Justice (DOJ) found Ferguson’s focus on generating revenue over public safety, along with racial bias, had a profound effect on the city’s police and court practices that violated the constitution and federal law.  After international attention from the death of Brown and the report by the DOJ, Missouri enacted legislative and judicial reforms that lowered the cap on revenue towns may derive from courts, instated ability-to-pay hearings, and made it easier to sanction towns who violate the rules. Although towns cannot profit as much as before the new rules, the perverse incentives of revenue collection remain, and the same individuals continue to be targeted. Advocates want to eliminate these perverse incentives by removing the profit motive around the entity collecting the fines and fees, and the entity benefiting from the proceeds. This Note recommends a new approach to preventing towns from keeping proceeds from their ordinance enforcement and explains the history of racial segregation in St. Louis County and the City of St. Louis. 

You can read the full text here.  

Key Findings: 

  • St. Louis County is 25 percent Black and 68 percent white, whereas the city of St. Louis is 46 percent Black and the majority non-white.
  • In 2014, Ferguson municipal courts had over 16,000 outstanding warrants on 32,975 offenses; the most common offenses leading to a warrant were driving with a suspended license, expired license plates, failure to register a vehicle, no proof of insurance, and speeding.
  • In 2015, Ferguson expected to collect over three million dollars in revenue from fines and fees, 23 percent of the city’s total budget.
  • In 2014, Municipal division courts collected almost $110 million in fines statewide and an additional $12.47 million in fees and costs. 
  • Beginning January 1st, 2016, Missouri prohibited towns from deriving more than 20 percent of their general operating revenue from courts or face a disincorporation vote.
  • Rule 37.65 by the Missouri Supreme Court requires municipal courts to inquire about the ability to pay if the defendant states they cannot pay and issue a summons rather than a warrant for failure to appear at their first court date.


  •  Municipal courts should adopt a reading of the state constitution that requires fines and fees collected for breach of the penal law to be remitted to the county school fund.
Samuel Lev Rubinstein
University of Michigan Journal of Law Reform