Race Representation and Revenue: Reliance on Fines and Forfeitures in City Governments


Communities with larger Black populations appear to extract fines from their residents at higher levels even when controlling for social, economic, and institutional factors.

The Department of Justice’s Ferguson report suggests cities with a higher population of Black people and an overrepresentation of White people in their law enforcement agencies levy fines at higher per capita rates. This study explores the factors that may determine a city’s revenue generation from fines and forfeitures through an empirical investigation. The investigation included an examination of data from Comprehensive Annual Financial Reports for California municipalities and secondary data sources, data on the racial makeup of law enforcement agencies in comparison to their jurisdiction, and budgetary factors that may influence a city’s reliance on fines and forfeitures. Their findings suggest budgetary needs and public safety provisions are not associated with reliance on revenue from fines and forfeitures; however, they are associated with larger minority populations and the whether law enforcement agencies are representative of their community. 

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Key Findings: 

  • The average city in the sample has an ethnic makeup of 34 percent Hispanic/Latino, 13 percent Asian, and five percent Black; the average police force is slightly over representative of the Hispanic and Latino population, evenly representative of the White populations, and significantly over-representative of the Black population.
  • Cities with larger Black and Asian populations are more reliant upon fines.
  • When the ratio of the Hispanic or Latino representation is above 6.67, the relationship between fines and Hispanics or Latinos is statistically significant. 
  • Police agencies with an overrepresentation of their White population that serve a large Black population are more reliant upon fines. 
  • Extreme overrepresentation of the White population in law enforcement is associated with increased fines and forfeitures.


  • Waive court fees for indigent citizens.
  • Court funding from the state should be accounted for by general government funds rather than earmarking revenue from court fees for the court.
Akheil Singla , Charlotte Kirschner, and Samuel B. Stone
Urban Affairs Review