After the death of Mike Brown in 2014, the city of Ferguson and its law enforcement were placed under a national microscope. The predatory nature of the department was exposed and was eventually reined in. However, now that they can’t police for profit, the Ferguson police department is going broke.
Prior to the death of Mike Brown and the ensuing DoJ probe, traffic fines were the town’s second largest source of income, after sales tax. The DoJ report noted that financial incentives were driving law enforcement to continue unfair policies, predominantly targeting African-Americans.
In 2013, African-Americans accounted for 86 percent of traffic stops, while making up 63 percent of Ferguson’s population.
For those too poor to pay their tickets, routine traffic stops in Ferguson ended up in repeated imprisonment due to mounting fines. Ferguson was running a de facto debtors’ prison.
“Because such systems do not account for individual circumstances of the accused, they essentially mandate pretrial detention for anyone who is too poor to pay the predetermined fee,” top civil rights prosecutor who supervised the Ferguson inquiry at the Justice Department, Vanita Gupta said at the time.
Now, a lack of funds has cops overworked and underpaid, and officials are running scared.
Shannon Dandridge, who worked for dispatch for 13 years, resigned earlier this month citing the lack of funds to properly pay staff. She says the lack of funds for the department is creating a dangerous situation, according to Huffington Post:
“Mistakes are going to happen, someone is going to get hurt, whether a citizen or officer,” she said. “I don’t feel at this point we can properly staff the dispatch center to keep the community and officers safe. Something needs to be done immediately. After over 26 years working in law enforcement I’ve never seen such a disconnect between a city and its police department.”
In the wake of the DoJ investigation, law enforcement officials, and local politicians fled, including the police chief, city manager, city prosecutor, city clerks, municipal judge and police officers.
Losing the ability to prey on the poor left the police force and the city government decimated.
To deal with the city’s debt, which is mounting by the day, lawmakers have begun to increase taxes. However, they are still falling short.
According to Dandridge, calls to 9-1-1 frequently go unanswered and because of the lack of staff experience, officers are going to the wrong homes when they do actually answer the phone.
This chaos among law enforcement as a result of the DoJ investigation is a telling sign of the nature and function of police in America. Their very existence relies on their ability to legally rob the citizens.
Police, we are told, are here to keep us safe and protect us from the bad guys. However, public safety all too often takes a back seat to revenue collection. Time and time again, the Free Thought Project has exposed quota schemes in which officers were punished for not writing enough tickets.
Just this week, they reported on Bergen County, New Jersey, which is experiencing a similar financial struggle because cops haven’t been extorting the population fast enough to keep up with government spending.
Bergen County law enforcement chose to educate drivers instead of extorting them and accidents went down. They also started investigating actual crimes instead of generating revenue. However, this lack of revenue sent politicians into a frenzy and the police have since gone back to writing tickets. In the last six months alone, the number of tickets written has skyrocketed by nearly 450 percent to keep those inflated bureaucratic salaries flowing.
The question to ask now is, will Ferguson do the same?
If history is any indicator, we can see that the government always tends to take more. The residents of Ferguson, who’ve been finding themselves with more money, as of late, could soon see that windfall brought to a grinding revenue generating halt.
However, what happens if the police don’t start extracting revenue from the poor again and they’re disbanded?
Well, we’ve already seen what can happen. In Ferguson, during the unrest, while the police and National Guard seemed powerless to protect peaceful citizens from rioters, private organizations stepped in to fill the gap.
Oath Keepers, an organization of former and current military and police agents, spent several nights standing guard over businesses to deter looters. Many of the people they protected seemed grateful. Davis Vo, a restaurant owner, noted, “When they’re here, there’s definitely a weight lifted off of our shoulders.” With the looting that was ongoing, and the National Guard focused on protecting the police command post rather than major commercial areas, many business owners were thankful for extra protection — wherever it came from.
The actions of Oath Keepers are part of a trend of private enterprises competing with police to provide security. Threat Management Center, a private defense firm, protected folks in Detroit when police forces couldn’t. Peacekeeper, a free app, competes with police by enabling people to build a network of friends, family, and neighbors whom they can call on in an emergency. The organization notes that this service can be faster and more customer-centric than calling police.
Solutions are all around us, we just have to seek them out.