- Associated Press - Monday, October 12, 2015

ST. LOUIS (AP) - St. Louis County police departments are backing off traffic enforcement, and municipal court revenue has dropped considerably, according to state court data.

The data analyzed by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (https://bit.ly/1G24FKk ) says traffic cases in the county’s 81 municipal courts fell 39 percent in the first seven months of 2015 from the same period last year. Money collected was down 38 percent.

According to the data, one of the biggest drops was in Ferguson, where traffic cases filed in municipal court are down 81 percent, and court revenue has dropped 58 percent.

A U.S. Department of Justice report on Ferguson released in March found bias in policing and a profit-driven municipal court system. The investigation followed concerns raised during unrest following the August 2014 fatal shooting of black unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown by a white Ferguson police officer.

After the Justice Department’s report, the state Supreme Court ordered that cases in Ferguson be heard for about three months by a state appeals judge. The city then hired retired St. Louis circuit judge Donald McCullin to be municipal judge.

McCullin said he thinks the drop in court revenue can be attributed in part to his effort to lower or cut fines for the poor and offer penalties such as community service. He called the court revenue decline “a positive result.”

The city of Ferguson said it an emailed statement that it had “no comment on the numbers of new cases, or the decrease in revenue. Further, we cannot speculate as to the factors which have led to the number of cases filed and the collections.”

Traffic cases and revenue collected fell 70 percent at the St. Louis County municipal court, which takes cases from unincorporated areas and a few small municipalities. The county’s police department patrols unincorporated areas.

“Public safety is always a priority for the St. Louis County Police Department,” spokesman Shawn McGuire said in an email. “This trend is not alarming because the number of traffic citations written by our police officers is not a priority.”

In Bellefontaine Neighbors, traffic cases are down 70 percent, and municipal court revenue dropped 42 percent. The city had entered mediation with the Justice Department and concerned residents after a former officer complained he was reprimanded for failing to meet ticket quotas.

Talks broke down in April because the city didn’t want to say “quota” in the agreement. But Bellefontaine Neighbors police chief Col. Jeremy Ihler said the city has adopted changes wanted by residents despite the lack of a formal agreement.

“We have taken a new approach to how we deal with crime and how we interact with the community,” said Ihler, who was appointed police chief in July. “It wasn’t like a forced shift away from traffic enforcement, more of an awareness of community issues that need to be addressed.”

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Information from: St. Louis Post-Dispatch, https://www.stltoday.com

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