911 Beauty Salon Targeted by Looters. Please Help

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Our adopted Ferguson business, the 911 Beauty Salon, appears to have been a target of looters tonight according to KTVI 2.

[olympus_cta button_text=”Donate Now” button_color=”red” button_url=”https://www.gofundme.com/911hairsalonferg”]Don’t Let the Looters Win! Save 911[/olympus_cta]

Dellena Jones’s business was already struggling. She didn’t need this.

Let’s prove that we believe in free enterprise entrepreneurship. That we can help our neighbors.

You can donate to help Dellena on this GoFundMe project

[olympus_cta button_text=”Donate Now” button_color=”red” button_url=”https://www.gofundme.com/911hairsalonferg”]Don’t Let the Looters Win! Save 911[/olympus_cta]

Thank you. God bless Ferguson.


It’s a Beautiful Spring Day, And Dellena Struggles to Stay In Business

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We met Dellena Jones during our first Ferguson BUYcott in August. Since then, St. Louis Tea Partier, Dottie Bailey, has made it her mission to help Dellena’s business survive and flourish.

Dellena’s business has fallen 60 percent since the first riots. She’s repaired the damage to her salon, but business is slow.

Despite all her challenges, Dellena still found the time and energy to host Center for Self-Governance training in her shop on a Saturday, foregoing that day’s revenue to learn about freedom and responsibility.

This GoFundMe project won’t clean up the debris around her shop, but it will help her survive until the area gets cleaned up.

We have a goal of raising $20,000 for Dellena, but we need your help.

Here’s what you can do today.

Pledge $1 for every goal the Blues score in their playoff series with Minnesota.

Pledge $10 for every Blues win.

Pledge $2 for every Cardinal run scored in the next week.

Post this link to Facebook and Twitter. http://www.gofundme.com/911hairsalonferg

Visit the 911 Hair Salon on W. Florissant in Ferguson — and buy something.

Donate what you can today.

The flip-side of Liberty is Responsibility, and we all need a mission in life that’s bigger than ourselves. Just $1 for Dellena Jones will let you say, “I did something.”

If you believe in small business, in recovery, and in free enterprise, why not help this woman keep her dream of independence through hard work alive?

How Emphasis on Race Hurts Efforts to Reform Municipal Courts

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My story on the Justice Department’s Ferguson report addressed race early. .

So let’s have a little blunt talk about race from a West County white guy’s point of view (which is alway helpful).

Faction A and Faction B

Whenever race comes up, two large factions shut down. They shut down intellectually because ‘race’ touches an irrational, emotional nerve.

Faction A views every issue as a race problem. They see rain at a picnic as racist. They see horse racing as racist. They see the neighbor’s barking dog as racism, even if the dog and its owner are black. Doesn’t matter. Anything that bothers them must have racism as its cause. This group assumed Darren Wilson shot Michael Brown because Michael Brown is black, and no evidence in the world will change their minds.

Faction B views every problem as a false accusation of racism. If Faction B sees a KKK member burning a cross, it  blame the race-mongers for putting Section 8 housing where some gentleman needed to start a fire. This group believes every time a police officer shoots someone, arrests someone, or pulls over someone, the police action was justified and necessary. No. Matter. What. This tweet, in response to yesterday’s headline, is a perfect example of Faction B reaction:

As soon as either faction hears “race,” it exits the conversation. They leave the conversation because the word triggers a default script in their minds. Everything to them is literally black or white.

And these are two really big factions. Both factions are so big that united they can do anything and divided they can stop everything.

If we hope to resolve the problems of police and courts shaking down citizens, we must unite these two factions. But declaring any problem a racial problem divides these two factions.

So what’s the solution?

I don’t have the full answer, but I know it starts with leadership, because all problems are leadership problems.

Leaders must rise above the race card. That’s not to say leaders ignore racial problems. It means leaders accept the racial factors involve, then address the causes of the problem.

Let’s use Ferguson as an example.

Race and Ferguson

I recognize that race is a factor in Ferguson, and I said as much in yesterday’s post. But gazing at the race problem does nothing but satisfy Faction A (“I told you so”) and irritating the Faction B (“There they go again.”) Real leaders must acknowledge the obvious: abusive courts and fine-wielding police in Ferguson disproportionally hurt African-Americans.

And that’s where the racial conversation must end.

Blaming Ferguson’s problems on race is like blaming a cavity on tooth decay. The decay is the thing you can see, but the cavity didn’t cause itself. Bad hygiene and diet and maybe a little genetics caused the problem. While drilling and filling the cavity will stop the pain, the next tooth over will soon rot.

In Ferguson, the problem is government. The people in government who created the problem did not decide “let’s mess with the black people.” They decided, “let’s use the police and courts to pull in more money.” Black people disproportionately got in the way of that money grab. The money grab, not racism, caused distrust of the police and courts. Since the police and courts are mostly white and the people mostly black, race was a factor in the result, not necessarily in the cause.

Put another way, there is no racial remedy for what’s wrong in Ferguson, but fixing Ferguson will disproportionately benefit African-Americans. And that’s a good thing.

Seize the Blessing | Ignore the Curse

Leaders must want to fix the problem, not be proven right about its cause. Addressing the real problem of overextended municipal government and unprincipled leaders like Judge Ronald Brockmeyer will alleviate the  most obvious race problem of poor blacks going to jail and getting poorer.

The Justice Department’s report on Ferguson was both a blessing and a curse. The blessing was pointing out how corrupt and destructive is the practice of “taxation by citation,” to use Senator Eric Schmitt’s fantastic phrase. The curse of the DOJ report was its over-emphasis on race as a cause.

If our leaders focus on the blessing in the DOJ report, we can unite the factions and do anything that needs to be done. Unity will improve the race problem. But admiring the problem does nothing.


What To Do With the DOJ Report on Ferguson

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The will of man is not shattered, but softened, bent, and guided; men are seldom forced by it to act, but they are constantly restrained from acting. Such a power does not destroy, but it prevents existence; it does not tyrannize, but it compresses, enervates, extinguishes, and stupefies a people, till each nation is reduced to nothing better than a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd.”

–Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America

Because of business travel and meetings, I postponed reading the Department of Justice report on Ferguson until. late, late last night. And I didn’t read all of it. I tried to focus on the parts we can do something about or learn from.

There are many. And there are many opportunities for distraction. Those distractions will interest some radio talkers, for sure, but distractions block action.

The Big Distraction

Let’s get this out of the way first. I’m not surprised that Eric Holder’s DOJ puts such an emphasis on race. Neither do I dismiss the racial aspects of the report. I think it’s reasonable to assume that at least some problems in Ferguson owe to attitudes toward people of another race.

Some may use the report’s racial overtones to discredit the entire document, though, and that would be a mistake. I’ve edited out references to race in several of the quotes. Race  might matter to Holder, but not to me. Abuse is abuse no matter the victim’s color.

The meat of the story here is corruption driven by government greed, as my friend Christina Botteri (@christinakb) pointed out. The people perpetrating the corruption are not the police, but the city officials who direct police activity.

Eric Holder’s name can drive conservatives and libertarians to distraction. Please read the report, or a summary of the report, open to the possibility that some of the findings are true. Then consider the corroborating evidence we have uncovered in our Municipal Courts project.

Reading the report with an open mind and in light of evidence we already knew about police and court practices in many Missouri cities, we realize that Eric Holder’s last major work is a gift to the liberty lovers of America. Take it as such and act.

Taxation By Citation

The first and clearest finding in the report is no surprise to anyone who reads this blog. Ferguson treats citizens like the government’s ATM machines. From the report:

City officials routinely urge Chief Jackson to generate more revenue through enforcement. In March 2010, for instance, the City Finance Director wrote to Chief Jackson that “unless ticket writing ramps up significantly before the end of the year, it will be hard to significantly raise collections next year. . . . Given that we are looking at a substantial sales tax shortfall, it’s not an insignificant issue.” Similarly, in March 2013, the Finance Director wrote to the City Manager: “Court fees are anticipated to rise about 7.5%. I did ask the Chief if he thought the PD could deliver 10% increase. He indicated they could try.”

Public safety, crime prevention, and investigations–you know, the stuff police are supposed to do–rank below revenue generation in Ferguson:

Patrol assignments and schedules are geared toward aggressive enforcement of Ferguson’s municipal code, with insufficient thought given to whether enforcement strategies promote public safety or unnecessarily undermine community trust and cooperation. Officer evaluations and promotions depend to an inordinate degree on “productivity,” meaning the number of citations issued. Partly as a consequence of City and FPD priorities, many officers appear to see some residents . . . less as constituents to be protected than as potential offenders and sources of revenue.

Once upon a time when I was about to enter the St. Louis Police Academy, I spent some time with a senior detective about to retire. He told me, “there’s three kinds of people in the world: perps, victims, and cops.”

I felt sorry for him. At the time, I hoped I never developed such cynicism. I thought I understood how such an attitude could develop working with crime all one’s life. But I hoped to avoid it. (I got a job offer while waiting to class up and never became a police officer.)

The daily pressure to write  more tickets and arrest more people on ordinance violations seems to accelerate a cynical attitude. My friend Dan, who testified before Senator Eric Schmitt’s committee on the Mack’s Creek law, told me a friend of his, and former Ferguson police officer, turns down numerous offers to return to law enforcement because of police and civilian leaders who twist good cops into “ticket jockeys.”

Revenue Needs Lead to Civil Rights Abuses

The report describes a familiar tactic police use to create a situation that leads to more fines and jail time: abuse of authority.

This culture within FPD influences officer activities in all areas of policing, beyond just ticketing. Officers expect and demand compliance even when they lack legal authority. They are inclined to interpret the exercise of free-speech rights as unlawful disobedience, innocent movements as physical threats, indications of mental or physical illness as belligerence. Police supervisors and leadership do too little to ensure that officers act in accordance with law and policy, and rarely respond meaningfully to civilian complaints of officer misconduct. The result is a pattern of stops without reasonable suspicion and arrests without probable cause in violation of the Fourth Amendment; infringement on free expression, as well as retaliation for protected expression, in violation of the First Amendment; and excessive force in violation of the Fourth Amendment.

I am tempted to say, “but Holder’s DOJ violates the Fourth Amendment all the time.” And “what about the NSA?”

True. This report on Ferguson raises hypocrisy to new heights. But just because the authors of the report violate the law does not mean the report is wrong. It just means we have more work to do.

The report describes how this abuse of authority works:

For example, in the summer of 2012, a . . . man sat in his car cooling off after playing basketball in a Ferguson public park. An officer pulled up behind the man’s car, blocking him in, and demanded the man’s Social Security number and identification. Without any cause, the officer accused the man of being a pedophile, referring to the presence of children in the park, and ordered the man out of his car for a pat-down, although the officer had no reason to believe the man was armed. The officer also asked to search the man’s car. The man objected, citing his constitutional rights. In response, the officer arrested the man, reportedly at gunpoint, charging him with eight violations of Ferguson’s municipal code. One charge, Making a False Declaration, was for initially providing the short form of his first name (e.g., “Mike” instead of “Michael”), and an address which, although legitimate, was different from the one on his driver’s license. Another charge was for not wearing a seat belt, even though he was seated in a parked car.

That story is only one example that fits a pattern easy to identify. If people won’t commit a minor municipal code violation, police in towns like Ferguson will bully people into committing something. It seems that I could be arrested for introducing myself to a cop as “Bill Hennessy.” What if I gave my post office address of Pacific instead of the actual location of my house, Wildwood? Would that constitute Making a False Declaration?

And, since when was a false declaration a crime? Why isn’t the Ferguson PD arresting the President for declaring, “If you like your insurance, you can keep it?”

Let’s move on to the Ferguson Municipal Court.

The Kangaroo Court and Its Tax-Owing Judge

The DOJ report addresses directly a common problem with municipal courts. They don’t even pretend to dispense justice. They operate only to extract as much money as possible from anyone unlucky enough to wander through their doors. Ferguson’s court is like some backwater Mexican jailhouse.

The municipal court does not act as a neutral arbiter of the law or a check on unlawful police conduct. Instead, the court primarily uses its judicial authority as the means to compel the payment of fines and fees that advance the City’s financial interests.

Perhaps the perfect description of a problem in dozens of municipal courts around St. Louis County.

Now, some have criticized our muni courts project, asking “don’t you believe in law and order, Bill?”

Yes, I do. And I believe the first law is the law that restricts government. Which is why government officials who break the law should face stronger penalties and harsher rebukes than citizens who commit similar violations.

Most strikingly, the court issues municipal arrest warrants not on the basis of public safety needs, but rather as a routine response to missed court appearances and required fine payments. In 2013 alone, the court issued over 9,000 warrants on cases stemming in large part from minor violations such as parking infractions, traffic tickets, or housing code violations. Jail time would be considered far too harsh a penalty for the great majority of these code violations, yet Ferguson’s municipal court routinely issues warrants for people to be arrested and incarcerated for failing to timely pay related fines and fees.

Just days after the DOJ released its report on Ferguson, The Guardian reported that the judge of that court, Ronald Brockmeyer, owes a lot of taxes, himself:

The judge in Ferguson, Missouri, who is accused of fixing traffic tickets for himself and colleagues while inflicting a punishing regime of fines and fees on the city’s residents, also owes more than $170,000 in unpaid taxes.

How low of a lowlife is Brockmeyer?

Investigators found Brockmeyer had boasted of creating a range of new court fees, “many of which are widely considered abusive and may be unlawful”. A city councilman opposing the judge’s reappointment was warned “switching judges would/could lead to loss of revenue”.

Brockmeyer is part of the revolving door of municipal court abusers. He’s judge in Ferguson and prosecutor elsewhere, teaching other towns how to extract more blood from their citizen-turnips. From The Guardian:

Brockmeyer, who has been Ferguson’s municipal court judge for 12 years, serves simultaneously as a prosecutor in two nearby cities and as a private attorney. Legal experts said his potentially conflicting interests illustrate a serious problem in the region’s judicial system. Brockmeyer, who reportedly earns $600 per shift as a prosecutor, said last year his dual role benefited defendants. “I see both sides of it,” he said. “I think it’s even better.”

Maybe Brockmeyer needs those ‘abusive and unlawful” fees and fines he’s so proud of to pay his back taxes.

Brockmeyer symbolizes the rentier model of Ferguson and similar cities in St. Louis County. “Rentier” refers to the medieval practice of land barons of demanding large fees simply for crossing their land. The land itself was granted to them by the king–the barons did not buy it. And every inch of some countries were controlled by some baron. Public roads were subject to private tolls. But the barons added no value. They did not improve the roads or offer protection to travelers. They only took. “Rentier.”

The court imposes these severe penalties for missed appearances and payments even as several of the court’s practices create unnecessary barriers to resolving a municipal violation. The court often fails to provide clear and accurate information regarding a person’s charges or court obligations.

We learned that from Dan Hyatt and Lee Presser. Both white, upper-middle-class. Dan and Lee showed that Breckenridge Hills and Bel-Ridge courts fail to comply with Missouri Supreme Court rules on the conduct of court, the preservation of evidence, and the recording of proceedings.

The Snare of Muni Courts

Getting tangled up in the muni court system can lead to a nightmarish carnival of mayhem for the poor.

We spoke, for example, with an African-American woman who has a still-pending case stemming from 2007, when, on a single occasion, she parked her car illegally. She received two citations and a $151 fine, plus fees. The woman, who experienced financial difficulties and periods of homelessness over several years, was charged with seven Failure to Appear offenses for missing court dates or fine payments on her parking tickets between 2007 and 2010. For each Failure to Appear, the court issued an arrest warrant and imposed new fines and fees. From 2007 to 2014, the woman was arrested twice, spent six days in jail, and paid $550 to the court for the events stemming from this single instance of illegal parking. Court records show that she twice attempted to make partial payments of $25 and $50, but the court returned those payments, refusing to accept anything less than payment in full. One of those payments was later accepted, but only after the court’s letter rejecting payment by money order was returned as undeliverable. This woman is now making regular payments on the fine. As of December 2014, over seven years later, despite initially owing a $151 fine and having already paid $550, she still owed $541.

It’s easy to say, “she should have gone to court.” You’d be right. But going to court would not have helped if she didn’t have the money to pay.

Further, why is it okay for government–our creation and our servant–to abuse its master? Why can Judge Brockmeyer invent “abusive and unlawful fines” to levy on poor citizens, but the citizen goes to jail and if she can’t or won’t pay those abusive and unlawful fines?

It’s backwards.

Ferguson Has Two Kinds of People

That old cop who told me of three kinds of people was wrong. In cities like Ferguson, where revenue generation trumps everything else, police are victims, too. That leaves two kinds of people: perps and victims.

What’s most disturbing about the reality of cities like Ferguson, Missouri, is the human suffering the system creates. Citizens are not the only victims. The police are victims, too. Darren Wilson was a victim of the system that built walls of hostility and distrust between the police and the people they were supposed to serve and protect.

No one goes to the police academy hoping to write lots of tickets that turn into bench warrants. People become cops because they know civil society needs brave and patient officers who show up at bad situations, keep their heads about them, and settle everything down before figuring out what really happened and writing a report for judges and juries to weigh.

But municipal greed turns these men and women into Sheriffs of Nottingham, finding feeble excuses to extract more tax dollars from citizens for the benefit of a rentier government scheme. And the judges are the perps.

Take Action

After reading the DOJ report, I feel compelled to thank Senator Eric Schmitt and his co-sponsors again. Also, thanks to the people who testified for Senator Schmitt’s bill that reduced the cap on traffic fines to 10 percent of a city’s revenue. But there’s more work to be done.

First, that Mack’s Creek bill that passed the Missouri Senate 34 to 0 needs to pass the House. I spoke to State Representative Shamed Dogan who said he expects the bill to pass, but not as surely as it did in the Senate. Write your Missouri State Rep and ask him or her to support SB-5.

While Senator Schmitt’s bill was a great start, it’s not enough. Auditor Tom Schweich began the process of enforcing the Mack’s Creek law, but he is not around to complete that work. You can email the interim auditor, John Watson, and ask him to continue Schweich’s Municipal Court project. His email is moaudit@auditor.mo.gov.

Finally, we would like to see criminal penalties for mayors, judges, comptrollers, and city managers who impose unlawful fines and fees or try to violate the Mack’s Creek law. Right now, the law only allows the state to abolish abusive muni courts. But guys like Judge Brockmeyer will just migrate to another town and set up shop. As I said, government officials who break the law should face stiffer penalties than citizens.

Free People, Not Sheep

As I wrote back in September, the municipal court problem is a liberty issue. Blindly accepting whatever a town’s police and courts dish out softens people. It prepares us to accept any abuse, any civil rights restriction, the government wants to impose. In the words of 19th century French aristocrat Alexis de Tocqueville, these courts and police practices reduce us to “a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd.”

Let’s stop these abuses now.

Do the Speed-Trap Mayors Want You To Drive Dangerously?

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I had the rare honor of testifying before the Missouri Senate committee on Economic Development. The hearing’s subject was Senator Eric Schmitt’s Senate Bill 5 to reign in traffic court abuses in Missouri.

Here’s some perspective:

  • St. Louis County accounts for 22 percent of Missouri’s population and over 50 percent of traffic tickets
  • St. Ann’s traffic court revenue exploded from about $500,000 in 2009 to over $3.5 million last year
  • Traffic court generates 90 percent of the total revenue for one Missouri city
  • Ferguson, Missouri, has three outstanding traffic ticket warrants for every citizen
  • The mayor of Edmundson in North St. Louis County wrote a memo to his police chief admonishing him to write more tickets or face wage and job cuts

I testified immediately following a representative from the ACLU. While this isn’t the first time St. Louis Tea Party Coalition and the ACLU have worked together on an issue, the fact we both see the same problem should tell you the problem is real.

The opposition to the bill came mostly from small town mayors who don’t want to lose revenue. They’ve become addicted to the fees from tickets and failure-to-appear warrants (typically $600). The other opposition came from my State Senator, Bill Schatz who questioned whether SB 5 would give drivers a green light to tool around like maniacs.

We Need the Money

First, let’s look at the revenue argument put forth by the mayors with support from the Municipal League, sort of a union of small town mayors and city managers. These mayors argue that without ticket revenue, they may have to disband their police departments.

Clearly, these mayors are not interested in safety. If safety, rather than revenue, were the concern, engineers could devise roads to force people to drive slower. Several European cities have designed streets that force slow, attentive driving and eliminated speed limits and stop signs. The result is slower speed, fewer accidents, and faster throughput.  In other words, you get where you’re going in less time.

If cities like St. Ann, Edmundon, and Bel Ridge followed the safe streets example, their ticket revenue would dry up faster than pony keg at an Irish wake. And, if safety were their concern, they’d do it. But safety is not their concern. Money is.

We know, for instance, that municipalities that install red-light cameras soon shave time off the yellow lights to generate more revenue. These cities don’t care about safety. They care about money and they’re willing to endanger drivers and passengers to get more money.

CD Baby’s founder Derek Sivers described the problem. If your company is in business to solve a problem instead of just treating the symptoms, the money will dry up. So companies–and cities–have an incentive to keep the problem around so they can fix it for a fee.

Senate Bill 5 seeks to lower the cap on traffic revenue to 10 percent of a city’s revenue from 30 percent. Cities would still be able to write all the tickets they wanted. They just wouldn’t profit from the practice. The tickets would promote safety. Excess revenue would go to fund Missouri’s schools. (I would rather the money went into the highway fund, but that’s for a later blog.)

So mayors don’t want drivers to slow down or to stop at red lights. They want drivers to break the law so their cities can generate revenue. They want to keep the problem around so their police and courts can keep profiting from it. And that’s just wrong.

We Need the Deterrent

Now, to Senator Schatz’s point that speed traps and heavy fines deter bad driving. They don’t.

Senator Schatz’s asked the ACLU Director of Advocacy and Policy, Sarah Rossi, what she would recommend as an effective deterrent to speeding if not fines.

I have to respond to Senator Schatz with a question: if St. Ann’s ticket revenue went from $500,000 to $3.5 million in six years, what makes you think fines do a damn bit of good at all?

They don’t. And the idea of “taxation by citation,” as Senator Schmitt calls it, should enrage citizens. The practice of maintaining a police department primarily to ticket to citizens is appalling. And it supports a level of government that’s inappropriately large.

In the city of Greendale in North St. Louis County, for instance, government is the town’s only industry at $3.5 million a year for 1,800 citizens. Vinita Park, Missouri, whose mayor McGee testified, is a town less than two square miles, but on any given day Vinita Park has over 200 people on a traffic ticket payment plan. By definition, people who need a loan to pay a speeding ticket are not wealthy, so McGee’s government is living off the backs of the poor.

Support Senate Bill 5

If you oppose taxation by citation, please write your state representative and senator, asking him or her to support Eric Schmitt’s SB5. The last thing we should expect from local government is to condition people to cow to government overlords.

And slow down. Without speeders and stop-runners, the small towns would have to muster up the courage to ask citizens for a tax increase or muster up the humility to reduce the size of government.

Now, check out Senator Schmitt’s interview with McGraw Milhaven on KTRS.

Do Police Officers Like Writing Tickets?

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What do police officer think about traffic ticket quotas? Here’s one officer’s thoughts:

In my agency, those of us in patrol had to keep a “Daily.” This would be a formal document that showed the times, addresses where we went, written in code, of what we had done.

On the back were boxes for how many traffic citations, criminal citations, parking citations and felony and misdemeanor arrests we had made on that day.

I frequently commented that the form didn’t represent how many people we stopped from committing suicide. Or how many domestic disputes we settled or how many missing children we found. So that “daily” never really adequately represented what my day really involved and often, by the numbers, could look as though I did nothing at all.

Read Quote of India L. J. Mitchell’s answer to Do police officers have monthly ticket quotas? on Quora

My dad was a city police officers in the 1950s and 1960s.

We were talking about cities that use the police force as a taxing agency last week. I gathered that my dad’s captain thought he was a little lax in issuing citations.

“My captain’d say, ‘why aren’t you writing more tickets, Hennessy?'” Dad told me. “And I’d say, ‘I didn’t see anybody do anything wrong.'”

One time his sergeant rode with him. The sergeant wanted to show him how to spot a moving violation. “Follow anybody for 5 minutes, and they’ll commit a violation,” the sergeant told him.

The sergeant spotted a car with a burned-out headlight. “Get him,” he told my dad.

“He’s got his family in the car, Sergeant.”

“I don’t care, Hennessy. It’s a violation. Pull him over.”

So my dad did.

“I’m sorry to do this to you with your family in the car, but my sergeant’s with me,” my dad told the driver.

The driver said, “I understand, officer. And I don’t mean to be disrespectful, but did you know you have a headlight out too?”

My dad looked back at the cruiser. Sure enough, a headlight was out.

“Gimme that ticket back,” he told the driver.

When Dad got back in the cruiser, he told his sergeant, “we have a burned out headlight, too, so I tore up the ticket.”

The sergeant, embarrassed, said, “just take me back to station. And get this car fixed.”

Police have a duty to enforce the law. Dangerous stretches of road require additional policing and strict enforcement of codes. I would never argue otherwise.

But there real value of police officers is their service. Like the officer quoted at the top  of this post said. Cities that use their police and courts to raise revenue don’t count lives saved or disasters averted when rating officers.

My dad liked being a presence in the community. He preferred walking the beat on foot patrol to riding in a car. “You never know what’s going on in a car,” he told me. “And nobody knew who you were.”

Ordinances are intended to increase safety and minimize danger to citizens. They’re not revenue streams. At least they shouldn’t be. The fine associated with safety tickets is a deterrent to the violator, not a tax for the government.

But too many St. Louis County cities use police and courts as a hidden tax on residents, visitors, and transients. Then people lose faith in police, in courts, and in the “system.” As Arch City Defenders found:

Many residents feel that municipal courts exist to collect fine revenue, not to dispense justice. “Absolutely they don’t want nothing but your money,” one defendant said, but “you get people out here who don’t make a whole lot of money.”38 He then described the startlingly common experience of being arrested, jailed, and instructed to call everybody he could think of who might have money to pay his fine—with the promise of three or four days in jail if he could not cobble together the sum.

That’s called a shakedown. How do shakedowns promote safety or dispense justice?

They don’t. They just piss people off and destroy communities.

I’m not excusing or condoning the terrorism that went on in Ferguson  I’m saying some St. Louis County municipalities abuse their police and courts, making residents despise and distrust the law. And when the people distrust the law, the lawless have an open door to wreck havoc on the community.

And, to some degree, that’s what happened. That’s what Tom Schweich, Eric Schmitt, and others are trying to fix.