Amidst the release of the Justice Department’s report on policing in Ferguson, many have made the point that Ferguson is not much different that many surrounding communities. While most such comparisons are made exclusively with other St. Louis County municipalities, I maintain that we have our own Ferguson right here in Jefferson County – Byrnes Mill. Let’s review:
- Ferguson was pulling in about 21-23% of its revenue from court fines. Byrnes Mill has brought in 26-37% of its revenue over the past three years from tickets, according to city budgets (though it went down from 2013 to 2014). Byrnes Mill will have some issues if the bill to cap traffic fine revenue at 10% of total city revenue passes the legislature (it already passed the Senate). Note: the percentages above include both traffic and non-traffic tickets. The latter wouldn’t count towards the 10% cap.
- The DOJ report mentioned that Ferguson’s fines for individual offenses were generally higher than those of its neighbors (page 10). Similarly, Byrnes Mill’s fines are generally higher than those of other JeffCo cities. In a sampling of 18 offenses, Byrnes Mill had the highest fine in the county for eight of them and the 2nd-highest for four of them (Note: I am missing data for two courts).
- Several Ferguson officials, including the judge, mayor, court clerk, and several patrol supervisors, got tickets taken care of for themselves or others. A lawsuit against Byrnes Mill by former interim chief Mike Smith claims that city administrator Larry Perney fixed one or more traffic citations and directed officers not to ticket one or more (specific) individuals.
- The Ferguson report lists a number of violations of Constitutional rights by Ferguson officers (starting on page 16). Byrnes Mill was sued several times for similar violations under former chief Ed Locke, including unlawful arrest, unlawful seizure (towing cars unnecessarily), and 1st Amendment retaliation.
- The main focus of the Ferguson report is race, of course. I could compare Byrnes Mill to Ferguson in this regard, but Byrnes Mill is 97% white, and the police there only stopped 18 black drivers in 2013, according to data send to the state attorney general (page 139). So I’m not sure such a comparison would be valid.