Missouri attorney general sues cities over predatory traffic ticketing

By Fiona Ortiz

By Fiona Ortiz

(Reuters) - Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster filed a civil lawsuit on Thursday against 13 St. Louis suburbs for predatory traffic ticketing, saying the cities were depending on traffic fines for too much of their budgets.

Black residents in some municipalities around St. Louis have complained they are unfairly targeted by frequent police patrols on highways, and have pressured politicians to make it more difficult for cities to earn revenue from traffic fines.

The issue came to national attention during protests over race, policing and politics after a white police officer shot and killed an unarmed black teenager in a St. Louis suburb in August.

Under what is known as the Macks Creek law, cities in Missouri cannot raise more than 30 percent of annual revenue from fines and court costs for traffic violations, the attorney general's office said in a statement.

"The Macks Creek law was enacted to protect Missourians from predatory traffic ticketing," Koster said. "As we continue to identify areas for reform, an important first step is to require St. Louis County municipalities to follow the Macks Creek law to the letter. Based on my review, these thirteen municipalities did not."

The cities being sued include Vinita Terrace, which Koster said derives more than 50 percent of its operating revenue from traffic-related fines. The cities of Moline Acres and Normandy were also named as deriving more than 30 percent of revenue from such fines.

Koster said the goal of the lawsuit was for cities to come into compliance and to properly report revenue.

Ferguson, the St. Louis suburb where Michael Brown was killed in August, was not among the cities being sued. A grand jury in November declined to bring charges against Darren Wilson, the police officer who shot Brown.

In September the Ferguson City Council announced new laws to reduce the city budget's dependence on court fines.

The changes came after residents of the town, which has a black majority and a mostly white government, complained about years of racial profiling and onerous traffic fines that affected mostly poor and African-American residents.