Cities with more black residents rely more on traffic tickets and fines for revenue

Local governments on average don’t rely all that much on revenue from things like traffic citations, termed fines and forfeitures.

According to data from the Census of Governments, the average city generated about $21 per person from fines in 2012, the last year for which there is national data. For reference, the average city generated about $150 per person from sales taxes at the time.

But there is a lot of variation: Some cities get more than 10% or 20% of their revenue from fines.

Why might some communities rely on fines way more than others do? One reason could be higher incidences of crime. Another might be that certain governments make a strategic choice to target passersby via speed traps. It could be a response to budgetary shortfalls or fiscal stress. And still another might be the race of the population or law enforcement agency.

If it’s not clear how or why this could involve race, you should take a look at the Department of Justice report on in Ferguson, Missouri. After Michael Brown , a black man living in a majority-black community, was shot and killed by a white police officer serving in a majority-white police force, the department investigated.