Meet The Missouri Town Where Everyone Is Under Arrest

A tiny town in Missouri has a minor-crime arrest rate that is 100 times the national average. According to a report covered by The Huffington Post, Beverly Hills (not to be confused with Beverly Hills, Calif.) averages an astounding 1,087 arrests per 1,000 people on an annual basis, and they collect fines and fees that average $400 per resident, per year. These statistics shine a sharp light on using law enforcement for profit in towns and counties.

It’s not just Beverly Hills, either. Many towns around St. Louis County have come under fire recently for their profit-driven law enforcement practices. It’s so bad that Missouri’s attorney general filed suit last year for breaking state law regarding the use of traffic stops as a revenue generator.

“Everyone’s got a horror story about the police,” former St. Louis County police chief Tim Fitch said to The Huffington Post, in a different article. “And most of that horror story relates back to being ticketed for some minor violation.”

In other words, the horrors of Ferguson actually extend well beyond Ferguson, and reveal a serious, serious problem throughout St. Louis County and probably elsewhere. Officers in some of these places compete with each other to see who can rack up the most citations. They’re under pressure from city officials and courts to bring in the money, which leads to racist policies and harassment, and breaks the trust that’s supposed to exist between citizens and law enforcement.

The HuffPo article says that municipal courts in St. Louis County are at the heart of the situation. There are 90 municipalities, and 81 municipal courts, in the county alone. Ordinances are a problem, too. In some places, people need occupancy permits just to stay overnight inside city limits, so sleeping over at the house of someone living in the next town over can get you fined if you don’t have that permit.

Some in St. Louis County call traffic violations, driving on a suspended license or with expired registration, and the like, “poverty violations,” according to a story in the Washington Post. One major misconception among people there is that appearing in court without the ability to pay a fine will result in getting arrested, so they don’t show up to court. That results in an arrest warrant, which gets them harassed and arrested the next time police stop them for something.

 In some places, people need occupancy permits just to stay overnight inside city limits, so sleeping over at the house of someone living in the next town over can get you fined if you don’t have that permit.

As such, these practices disproportionately hurt the poorest people, because they are least able to pay their fines, and most likely to wind up in jail because of it. If you can’t pay your fines, you’re fined for that. If you don’t show up to court, they issue a warrant for your arrest. Municipal courts are very unforgiving towards people who can’t pay their fines.

It’s so easy to look at these people and say, “Well, don’t break the law and you won’t have to worry about it.” How many of those who would say this still speed when they’re running late, though? How many roll through stop signs, or run red lights? How many of them have forgotten to renew their license or registration? When you can pay your own fines, it’s quite easy to ignore your own minor violations and say, “Don’t break the law.”

Furthermore, in a town like Beverly Hills, where you might get ticketed and fined for virtually anything, simply obeying the law isn’t so easy.

Cash-strapped municipalities, looking for cash wherever they can get it, often turn to fines to cover costs. This is not limited to St. Louis County; lots of places all over the country use fines as revenue generators. However, the Police Executive Research Forum has never encountered such egregious profit motives as the ones in St. Louis County. They found that some of these places arrest people for minor crimes at 10 times the rate of serious crimes. The national average is less than two arrests for minor crimes for every arrest for serious crimes.

In their report, they said:

“The dramatic difference in arrest rates in so many municipalities in St. Louis County suggests that some agencies are devoting disproportionate attention and resources to less serious crime issues. This seems to be occurring even in communities that have problems with more serious crime.”

Missouri’s lawmakers have been working on legislation that would come down hard on municipalities that use their courts to raise revenue. Perhaps if they worked with town like Beverly Hills, Ferguson, and others to reform their criminal justice systems, and started focusing more heavily on serious crimes, some of their costs would go down. Whatever they do, the time of using law enforcement as a major revenue generator needs to end. Maybe, if that ends, some other problems (such as police harassment), will lessen.


Reprinted with permission from Addicting Info