The results of the Justice Department's investigation of the Ferguson Police Department are expected to be released at some point this week, but the writing has been on the wall for some time.
Calling the results of the investigation "highly critical," the New York Times spoke with officials who've been briefed on the investigation who say it focuses on the disproportionate ticketing and arrest of African Americans.
Blacks accounted for 86 percent of traffic stops in 2013 but make up 63 percent of the population, according to the most recent data published by the Missouri attorney general. And once they were stopped, black drivers were twice as likely to be searched, even though searches of white drivers were more likely to turn up contraband.
For people in Ferguson who cannot afford to pay their tickets, routine traffic stops can become yearslong ordeals, with repeated imprisonments because of mounting fines. Such fines are the city’s second-largest source of revenue after sales tax. Federal investigators say that has provided a financial incentive to continue law enforcement policies that unfairly target African-Americans.
Critics, including groups who have filed lawsuits against the city, have referred to the practice of imprisoning those who can't pay fines as de facto "debtors prisons" where they are essentially milked for every last penny the city can get out of them and their families.
As the results of the investigation are expected to indicate, this practice encourages police officers to continue a pattern of discrimination because doing so effectively pays their salaries.
The Ferguson Police Department may cooperate with the Department and Justice and agree to enact major reforms, but the city government will have to find a way to make up for the loss of revenue.
It's not clear, based on statements reported by the New York Times, how the city government will react. I would say that if the government cannot operate without revenue derived from discriminatory law enforcement, members of the government do not deserve to hold office.