Where Local Governments Are Paying the Bills With Police Fines

From The Truth-Out:

The dependence of thousands of American cities and towns on judicial fines and forfeiture to fund public services is unhealthy for democracy. Public awareness of the depth of the problem has been growing since the Department of Justice’s 2014 investigation into the Ferguson, Mo., police, following the shooting of Michael Brown.

According to a Sunlight examination of 2013 Census data, Louisiana, Arkansas, Georgia, Illinois and Mississippi topped the list of states where city governments relied heavily on fines and forfeits for funding. We concluded this by examining the ratio of local fines and forfeits to local tax in order to see where local governments rely particularly heavily on fines and forfeits to pay for basic services. Using this metric, the government of Henderson, Louisiana relied most on  these types of fines and forfeits. Henderson collected $3.73 in fines and forfeits for every $1 it collected in taxes. Out of the five municipal governments which reported collecting more money from fines than from taxes in 2013, three (Henderson, Pollack, and Olla) were from Louisiana. All five were towns with populations under 1,500. This suggests that most of those fines were probably paid by people who did not live in those towns, but who nonetheless had to drive through them.

The Louisiana towns were unusual relative to the rest of the local governments sampled by the Census. The median ratio of fines and forfeit revenue to tax revenue for city and county governments was 0.02 — that is, the median city or county collected two cents in fines and forfeits for every dollar it collected in taxes. Averaging local governments by state revealed that high relative collection of fines and forfeits is more common in some states than others. The following table displays the ten states with local governments demonstrating the highest …

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