For the past two years, defendants appearing in the St. Louis area’s municipal courts system have noticed that lines no longer snake out the door, and drivers have noticed fewer speed traps on interstates. The massive municipal court industry that filled cities’ coffers with tens of millions of dollars looked like it was in serious decline, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports. St. Louis-area police and courts last year maintained a dramatic retreat from enforcement of traffic cases and other violations. It started after the unrest in Ferguson in 2014.
A report from the state court system said courts in St. Louis County took in $53 million in fines and fees in the year ending in June 2014, but just $29 million in the year ending last June. “The reality is, if this had ever been about public safety, they wouldn’t have stopped doing it when they could no longer make money off of it,” said law Prof. Brendan Roediger of St. Louis University, who has sued several municipalities over their court practices. There were 244,463 traffic cases filed in St. Louis County municipalities in the year ending last June, a decrease of 42 percent from two years ago, right before the fatal shooting of Michael Brown that led to intense scrutiny on police and court abuses. The decrease in traffic cases in the city of St. Louis was more dramatic, with just 66,008 traffic cases filed last year, down 69 percent from two years ago. After the Post-Dispatch exposed a culture of secrecy in the municipal court system and highlighted the difficulty obtaining information on individual cases, the municipal courts have put basic case information online.