On Wednesday, the Department of Justice (DOJ) released their report on civil rights violations in the Ferguson police department, finding systematic racism and a troubling focus on revenue gathering in the department.
The investigation was launched shortly after a white police officer, Darren Wilson, shot and killed Michael Brown, an African-American. The fatal shooting caused rioting and unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, with many claiming that the officer’s actions were racially motivated.
While a Grand Jury failed to indict Wilson, the Department of Justice moved forward with a civil rights investigation into Wilson and the Ferguson police department. DOJ officials stated that Ferguson stood in violation of the 14 Amendment due to racial bias in the department’s culture and in police actions.
The DOJ report released Wednesday cleared former police officer Wilson of any civil rights violations. However, the DOJ accused the Ferguson police department of racial bias, singling out African-Americans for arrests and fines. Ferguson officers often exchanged racist emails, and used racial slurs against residents. The DOJ report showed that there is a great disparity between arrests and fines of white versus black residents.
The report also noted that Ferguson police repeatedly violated citizens’ constitutional rights, systematically ignoring their First and Fourth Amendment rights.
Equally concerning, the report paints a picture of a police department focused more on raising revenue than protecting residents. Attorney General Eric Holder stated that the police department acted as a “collection agency” for the city, making arrests and writing fines in order to increase revenue. According to the report, officers attempted to write as many citations as possible for any possible infraction or stop, all in an attempt to keep money flowing to the city. Officers and judges were praised for finding new and innovative ways to levy fees and fines.
Often, individuals would be charged hundreds of dollars and arrested for citations such as “failure to comply” or “resisting arrest,” even though the individuals were never charged with criminal activity.
Multiple times, city officials contacted the police department asking them to increase the amount of revenue they were generating through citations. Charges were generally levied towards Ferguson’s poorest residents, and disproportionately targeted minority communities.
On the other end of the scale, the DOJ found that the department would often let friends, family, and colleagues off the hook for violations.
Officials from the DOJ have met with Ferguson officials to discuss the report and propose 26 recommendations to reform the department. Holder has stated that if the city does not change his practice, the DOJ could still bring a lawsuit to force compliance if the city does not work with the DOJ.
Law enforcement actions based more upon raising revenue than true policing is an epidemic across the country.
Eric Garner died because NYC police were “enforcing” a law related to tobacco sales. A man lost his life because he was selling singles; a crime that threatened NYC’s tobacco taxation revenue.
From red light and unattended roadside radar cameras, municipalities have been using their police forces in a way that has spawned disdain for law and law enforcement officers. It is past time that LEOs stood up to the politicians. It is also past time for citizens to tell their elected officials that revenue focused enforcement is not acceptable.