Policing for profit … citizens as “cash cows

Injustice prevails when citizens are treated as a financial resource


By: Gary S. Cox

Any American who keeps up with the daily news has now heard about the alarming U.S. Department of Justice report on the Ferguson, Missouri Police Department and local municipal court system. The DOJ findings noted both are riddled with systemic racism in practice and attitude. The report gave multiple examples to back up these assertions. The statistics were astounding; in a city of 21,000 residents, where the population is 67% African American, black residents comprised 93% of those arrested in the report period covering 2012 – 2014. There is simply no other way to put it other than the black community in Ferguson is viewed by city officials as a financial resource rather than as tax paying residents in need of protection. As a white male American, my jaw dropped in disbelief! I immediately understood the shooting of Michael Brown was but the match that lit the powder keg of pent up frustration with an abusive criminal justice system in Ferguson.

In a direct quote from the DOJ report, “Ferguson’s law enforcement practices are shaped by the City’s focus on revenue than by public safety needs.” The black community in Ferguson is treated as a cash cow to replenish the City’s coffers. Police officers are used as tax collectors. These two facts set up an immediate inherent conflict.  When we treat citizens as financial resources, common sense tells you civil rights and treating citizens with courtesy and respect fall by the wayside.

It is not enough to say the quick “take away” of the DOJ report is the Ferguson Police Department and Municipal courts are racist. Such an assessment would oversimplify what is a complex situation. We as nation have to ask questions about police “culture” and practices that allow the police and the courts to be more concerned about city budgetary needs over public safety.  In part, it is a leadership issue.Ferguson serves as an example of where money is the primary motivator of policing activity public trust in the criminal justice system as a whole is completely eroded.

The debate is already underway in the media and on social media as to whether or not the DOJ report is indicative of systemic racism in Ferguson or it is a city that systematically abuses it policing powers.  Academics criticize the report saying the report’s use of a disparate impact analysis is flawed. The comparison should not be of: percent of black residents to the number of police incidents but rather the number of crimes committed by blacks vs. the percent of overall population. However, when city officials view a subset of residents “… less as constituents to be protected than as potential offenders and sources of revenue” any methodology fails to capture root cause of the tension and unrest in Ferguson.  Regardless of either argument, what the DOJ report speaks loudly to without directly saying it, is when we move from community policing to policing for profit, we have a city structure that is predatory by its very nature. Policing for profit treats citizens as “prey” to vigorously enforce municipal ordinances to enhance the largess of the City’s coffers. Policing anywhere in the United States should not be a revenue enhancement activity.

Now, as concerned Americans we should question whether or not the DOJ findings are limited to Ferguson? Police departments and city officials all across America should ask, “Are we too Ferguson?” The DOJ report is an argument for a national self-examination of our policing practices. The need to return to community policing where residents of a neighborhood know the officer on duty at any given time of the day or night should be the first order of business!

Read the DOJ Report for yourself here.


  1. Burroughston Broch says:

    Mr. Cox, you are naïve.
    According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, between 1980 and 2008 blacks committed 52% of the USA homicides while constituting 13% of the population. The rate for blacks was about 7 times the rate for everyone else.
    Given these statistics, it’s not unreasonable that the 67% black population in Ferguson was involved in 93% of the arrests.