Ferguson will cap the amount of revenue the city makes from tickets and fines, the city announced Monday ahead of its first council meeting after the Michael Brown shooting. The city will only use fines for 15 percent of its revenue — everything else will go towards community projects.
The city council will also set up a Citizen Review Board of the police and introduce a warrant recall program, "a special docket for defendants who are having trouble paying their outstanding fines," according to MSNBC.
As The New York Times reports, one of the root causes of Ferguson residents' mistrust of their police force is the fact that the city had a financial incentive to give people tickets, then fine them for not paying their fines. For every 1,000 people in Ferguson, the police department issues 1,500 — that is not a typo — arrest warrants. According to The Times, the high number includes multiple warrants for the same person or nonresidents failing to appear in court for not paying traffic fines, shoplifting, assault or disturbing the peace. Still, Ferguson is an outlier when it comes to warrants by about 700 warrants per 1,000 people.
The reason black residents feel like they're being targeted by the police is because they are. A 2013 report on racial profiling from the Missouri Attorney General's Office found that black residents make up 67 percent of the population but 86 percent of the traffic stops and 92 percent of arrests. And yet, white residents were more likely to have contraband on them (34 percent vs. 21 percent of white residents). The Justice Department is currently launching an investigation into the Ferguson Police Department for possible discrimination and misconduct.
Activists consider the moves by the Ferguson city council a positive, but hope other municipalities will adopt the changes. Julia Ho, a community organizer for the Hands Up Organization — formed in the wake of the Michael Brown shooting — called the warrants and traffic fines "a regressive tax on the poor and criminalization of poverty" and noted that "if people no longer receive these charges, that’s huge: It keeps people from getting stuck in modern debtor’s prisons,” during an interview with The Times.