10/17/2014Report Explores Speed Trap Towns In St Louis, Missouri
Half of the traffic ticket revenue in Missouri comes from the suburbs of St. Louis.
Discontent in the suburbs of St. Louis, Missouri broke into the international spotlight with the August 9 police shooting of Michael Brown. Before that, motorist Brett Darrow exposed extreme police conduct by videotaping traffic stops, including the 2007 rant of a St. George officer which led to the city being disbanded a year later.
The group Better Together St. Louis on Wednesday further explored the issue with a study of the county's 82 separate courts which generated $61,152,087 in revenue, primarily from speeding tickets. This is roughly half of the revenue generated by fines in the entire state, even though only 22 percent of the population lives in the county.
"There is sufficient evidence, both of practice and intent, for the conclusion to be drawn that municipal courts are not being used as instruments of justice and public safety, but rather as revenue generators for municipalities that would otherwise struggle or simply be unable to survive," the report explained. "However, not all revenue from fines comes from residents of the particular municipality collecting the fines. This is especially true of those municipalities that include parts of I-70, I-170, and I-270. A motorist driving to the airport from Clayton or from downtown St. Louis may encounter three or four patrol cars with radar from three or more separate municipalities. These highways may be the most over-policed roadways in the state."
In fourteen municipalities, fines are the biggest single source of revenue. Current law caps the amount of fine revenue that can be generated by a municipality to 30 percent of the budget, but only 8 of the municipalities exceeded that threshold. Better Together's report recommends reducing the trigger to 10 percent, which would force 40 of the 90 municipalities in the area to reduce their ticketing efforts. The report condemns the extreme tactics taken by courts to collect fines, especially from poorer residents.
"These courts frequently go to extreme measures in order to collect fines and fees," the report stated. "Tactics include locking up citizens without the means to pay their fines, and issuing warrants to those who do not appear (often out of fear that their inability to pay will result in them being locked up). While municipal judges are permitted under Missouri law to pursue other methods of collection including private debt collection, the establishment of payment plans, or even the reduction of a fine, these 'softer' methods often go unutilized."
A copy of the report is available in a 3mb PDF file at the source link below.