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Investigation of the Ferguson Police Department

Highlights

In 2014, 23% of Ferguson’s municipal budget was funded by fines and fees.

After Michael Brown was shot by a member of the Ferguson Police Department, the Department of Justice’s investigation uncovered a pattern of racially discriminatory practices by the Ferguson Police Department which were primarily rooted in the city’s dependence on the criminal justice system to raise revenue. The report devoted a chapter to the Ferguson Municipal Court and documented unconstitutional practices, conflicts of interest, and other illegal conduct that was inextricably tied to policing practices. The publication of the Ferguson report is widely viewed as the start of the movement to reform fines and fees in the U.S.

You can read the full DOJ Ferguson report here.

Key Findings

  • Ferguson’s law enforcement practices are shaped by the City’s focus on revenue rather than by public safety needs.
  • Between 2010 and 2014, the City of Ferguson issued 90,000 citations and summonses. Just 21,000 individuals call Ferguson home.
  • From 2012-14, 85% of people stopped, 90% of those who received a citation, and 93% of those arrested were black, whereas only 67% of Ferguson’s population is black. Black drivers were also twice as likely as whites to be searched during vehicle stops.
  • In 2014, 23% of Ferguson’s municipal budget was funded by fines and fees. City officials evaluated the performance of criminal justice actors based on the amount of revenue they produced.
  • A single missed, partial, or late payment could result in incarceration. Arrest warrants were used “almost exclusively” to coerce defendants into paying legal debt. The court refused to reduce or waive any outstanding payments even when defendants were jailed for their inability to pay. In fact, the court did not even record the amount of time a defendant spent incarcerated. As one court staffer said, “It’s only three days anyway.”

In 2012, a Ferguson City Councilmember wrote to other City officials in opposition to Judge Brockmeyer’s reappointment, stating that “[the Judge] does not listen to the testimony, does not review the reports or the criminal history of defendants, and doesn’t let all the pertinent witnesses testify before rendering a verdict.” The City Manager acknowledged mixed reviews of the Judge’s work but urged that the Judge be reappointed, noting that “[i]t goes without saying the City cannot afford to lose any efficiency in our Courts, nor experience any decrease in our Fines and Forfeitures.”

United States Department of Justice Civil Rights Division
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