St. Louis Municipalities are seeing a drop in traffic ticket revenue

The St. Louis Area has had quite a bit of criticism over the years due to its municipal court system. The St. Louis area alone has over 81 different municipal courts. Each court has its own ordinances, court staff, judge and prosecutor. Many have their own police department tasked with upholding the laws of that specific municipality. In 2013, 10 of the 25 municipal courts with the most fines and fees per capita were in St. Louis County (2013). Further, 19 of the 25 courts that issued the most warrants per capita were in North St. Louis County.

Things are changing though. Recently the traffic reform bill went into effect limiting the amount of revenue municipalities can obtain through traffic tickets. The St. Louis area was specifically targeted and received a lower revenue cap than the rest of the state. This law went into effect at the end of August, but municipalities were lowering their ticket revenue from January to July of 2015.

From data that was self-reported by the municipal courts, overall the 81 municipal courts saw a 39% decrease in traffic cases filed and 38% decrease in money collected.

  • Ferguson filed just 1,330 traffic citations between January and July. Last year the number of tickets during that timeframe was 7,031. The Ferguson Municipal Court revenue fell by 58%.
  • St. Louis County municipal court which handles unincorporated areas with divisions in north, south and west saw a 70% drop in traffic cases files and revenue collected.
  • St. Louis County is running 20% behind the Kansas City area.  This is notable as St. Louis County has over 300,000 more residents than Kansas City.
  • Bellefontaine Neighbors entered mediation after it was revealed that the department punished officers for not writing enough tickets or “meeting their quota.” Revenue in that jurisdiction is down 42% and number of cases filed is down 70%. The police chief calls this a shift due to emphasizing the community driven “serve and protect” aspect of police work instead of just enforcing the law.
  • Berkeley is down 74% by reducing their traffic unit from 4 officers last year  to one this year.
  • St Ann is down 11%, but claims it is because the Missouri Department of Transportation ended the travel safe zone in 8/2014 that doubled fines for speeders.
  • Hanley Hills citations fell from 521 last year to just 101 this year. Last year they issued 708 warrants to only 199 this year.
  • Other places have started issuing warning instead of citations.

While some places are reducing the number of tickets written, others are issuing more.

  • In Kinloch in 2014, 453 tickets were issued and revenue was at $36,104. The 1st seven months of this year has seen those numbers rise to 616 tickets with revenue of $42,808. Kinloch police chief says the increase could be due to crime fluctuations. Kinloch has a strict no tolerance policy when it comes to illegal dumping. This type of non-traffic charge is not limited by the municipal reform measure. There are no limits on fines and individuals can be held on a cash bond. Non traffic matters do not count towards the revenue cap.
  • Sunset Hills, Dellwood, Crestwood, Manchester, Eureka and Maryland Heights have increased the number of tickets written from 2014 to 2015.
  • Sunset hills has increased its revenue collection by 37%.
  • Some court dismissed old cases, but Vinita Park reset them on the court calendar.

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