What really caused the 2014 riots in Ferguson, Missouri? A new study suggests they were fueled by “taxation by citation”

Reason’s Brian Doherty is out with an article on city governments that use “taxation by citation” as major components of their income.

Doherty cites a study from the Institute for Justice, “The Price of Taxation by Citation.” The study looked at 3 Georgia cities which derive 14 to 25 percent of their revenue from petty fines and fees. “The cities have their own courts to process citations, and the evidence shows these courts, which are structurally dependent on the cities, operate as well-oiled machines,” the study reports. “[C]ases almost always end in a guilty finding, resulting in fines and fees revenue for the cities.” There are lots of fines for “traffic tickets…for non-speeding violations, such as expired tags, lane violations, illegal U-turns, parking violations and window tinting, among numerous others,” as well as “trivial infractions…dominated almost entirely by offenses like being in a park after closing, violating leash laws and not walking on sidewalks.”

Taxation by citation also leads to “lower levels of trust and higher levels of ill will toward city government on the part of residents. Such ill will may have fueled the massive riots in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014.

It turns out that “from July 2010 through June 2014, Ferguson, a city of about 21,000 residents, issued 90,000 citations for municipal ordinance violations. And in the final 12 months of that period, police and code inspectors wrote almost 50% more citations than they did in the first 12. Significantly, the additional citations were largely for non-serious code offenses—not offenses like assault, driving while intoxicated and theft; the number of citations for more serious crimes like those generally held steady.