In the wake of the Mike Brown tragedy, a national spotlight was shone on St. Louis and it exposed a problem that has plagued citizens in the region for decades, the municipal court system. St. Louis County is home to 88 separate municipal courts, a significant number of which could fit into the footprint of an average neighborhood in south St. Louis city.
Due to residential shifts, primarily driven by race, these municipalities lost a significant portion of their tax base when long time home owners left those areas and relocated to outer suburbs and exurbs. The resulting gap in the municipal budget was not filled by new residents because most of them were renters. What happened next changed the face of St. Louis County forever.
Municipal officials decided that one good way to fill the gaps in their budget was through the muni courts. Increased traffic enforcement, increased court fines and costs, and over policing of their new low-income residents made for a reliable fundraiser for these municipalities. This trend continues today.
The passage of Senate Bill 5 (2015) has attempted to put and end to the decades long exploitation of poor communities by municipal courts. However, there is no way to ensure that courts are going to fully comply. Furthermore, there has been significant push back by individuals and organizations who benefit from the current system.