Ferguson City Council Announces New Programs, September 8th, 2014.
Ferguson City Council announced today that they are implementing several changes and new programs in response to community concerns. These new laws and policies are designed to reduce court fine revenue used for general city operations, reform court procedures, and establish a Citizen Review Board to provide citizen oversight and guidance for the police department. Additionally, the City Council will commit to pursue funding for the West Florissant Great Streets Project with the City of Dellwood and St. Louis County.
“The overall goal of these changes is to improve trust within the community and increase transparency, particularly within Ferguson’s courts and police department,” says Council Member, Mark Byrne, Ward 1. “We want to demonstrate to residents that we take their concerns extremely seriously. That’s why we’re initiating new changes within our local police force and in our courts.”
While these changes have been accomplished or are in the process of implementation, the City Council continues to explore additional changes. The Council will be holding ward meetings to hear the views of community members and anyone is welcome to contact the Council with ideas.
Specifically, the changes that are currently underway include:
The City Council has started the process to establish a Citizen Review Board to work in conjunction with the Police Department. This Board will include citizens who are not involved in local government. The Board will work closely with the City’s administration and the Police Chief in advising and reviewing operations and actions of the police department and will provide valuable input in improving operations.
At its next meeting the City Council will be introducing an ordinance that will ensure that budgeted court fine revenues remain at or below 15% of the City’s revenue and that any excess revenue is earmarked for special community projects instead of general revenue purposes. The Council believes that this ordinance sends a clear message that the fines imposed as punishment in the municipal court are not to be viewed as a source of revenue for the City. We are hopeful that the Council’s clear statement will encourage the Municipal Judge and Prosecutor to explore and utilize alternative methods of sentencing, such as community service, to punish violators and deter similar unlawful conduct.
In conjunction with this change, the Council will be introducing an ordinance that will repeal the separate offense of “Failure to Appear” in Municipal Court. So, defendants who fail to appear will no longer be charged with or fined for failing to appear in Municipal Court.
In addition, the City Council will be introducing an ordinance to abolish certain administrative fees which may impact low-income persons to a greater extent than others. The City is aiming to abolish the $25.00 administrative fee to cover the cost of police personnel who arrange for the towing of abandoned, nonfunctional or other vehicles; the city will now absorb this cost. And, the City Council will be abolishing the $50.00 warrant recall fee and the $15.00 notification fees which are both associated with municipal court cases where a defendant has failed to appear.
The Municipal Judge has signed an Order establishing a special docket for defendants who are having trouble making monthly payments on outstanding fines. Sometimes, financial circumstances change and although a defendant may have agreed to a particular payment plan when the case was first resolved, that person may now have trouble making those payments. This docket will allow those defendants another opportunity to speak to the judge and/or prosecutor about his or her financial circumstances and the possibility of modifying the payment plan or seeking alternative sentencing.
At the request of the City Council, the Municipal Judge signed an Order establishing a warrant recall program which will run from September 15, 2014, through October 15, 2014. All defendants with outstanding warrants are urged to contact the Municipal Court Clerk to obtain information about having the existing warrant recalled.
Lastly, the Council has expressed its commitment to seek funding for the West Florissant Great Streets Project in conjunction with the City of Dellwood and St. Louis County. The City will seek federal and state highway funds, streetscape grants, and other sources of funds for this Project, which will improve and revitalize the entire corridor.
Devin James (636) 748-7455