Missouri’s attorney general is suing thirteen St. Louis suburbs for allegedly using traffic stops to raise a larger share of their revenue than allowed by law.
The lawsuit addresses claims that have simmered in the background of the protests sparked by Michael Brown’s death in August, exacerbating the minority community’s frustration with law enforcement: That the region’s small local governments fill city coffers by targeting blacks over minor violations.
Attorney General Chris Koster announced the lawsuit at a press conference Thursday, charging that the 13 municipalities violated a state law, known as the Macks Creek law, that requires cities to report the share of their revenue that’s raised through traffic violations, and limits that share to 30%.
"The Macks Creek law was enacted to protect Missourians from predatory traffic ticketing," Koster said. "As we continue to identify areas for reform, an important first step is to require St. Louis County municipalities to follow the Macks Creek law to the letter. Based on my review, these thirteen municipalities did not."
The chairs of the Ferguson Commission, appointed by Gov. Jay Nixon to propose solutions to the underlying problems exposed by the unrest over Brown’s death, joined Koster at the press conference.
Investigators believe Vinita Terrace, one of the suburbs being sued, derived more than half of its revenue from traffic-related fines, said Koster, a Democrat. Other municipalities exceeded the 30% limit or failed to submit reports that showed the share derived from traffic stops.
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Ferguson was not among the suburbs that was sued. At 21,000 people, it’s significantly larger than many of the suit’s targets.
Local leaders say the small size of many of St. Louis’s northern suburbs is a key driver of the problem, since it leaves them with few sources of revenue, meaning they turn to traffic violations. A ten-minute drive in the area can take you through four or five different municipalities.
Black leaders have said the African-American community is disproportionately targeted for such stops. A failure to pay fines can mean jail time.
The thirteen municipalities are: Bellerive Acres, Moline Acres, Normandy, Vinita Terrace, Crystal Lake, Velda Village Hills, Hillsdale, Mackenzie, Beverly Hills, Pagedale, Breckenridge Hills, Pasadena Park, and Upland Park.