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SLU study verifies: Municipal court experiences are worse for black St. Louisans than for whites

Saint Louis University professors Ness Sandoval and Ken Warren.
Kelly Moffitt | St. Louis Public Radio
Saint Louis University professors Ness Sandoval and Ken Warren.

Saint Louis University professors Ken Warren, professor of political science, and Ness Sandoval, associate professor of sociology and anthropology, have been working diligently for the past several months to parse through data in a study about the different experiences St. Louis-area residents have had with municipal courts based on race and class.

“We hypothesized that blacks would receive their treatment in affluent and non-affluent communities as worse than whites,” Warren said. “One would say, you’d naturally expect that perception to bear out but we had to, as social scientists, really prove that.”

Warren and Sandoval interviewed 753 people throughout 12 communities in the St. Louis area about their experiences in municipal court and found that, yes, black people do perceive their experience at municipal courts worse than white people do.

The professors also found that two-thirds of those surveyed said they didn’t believe their traffic stops had anything to do with public safety.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re white or black, people think that communities are issuing tickets to collect revenue instead of promote public safety,” Warren said.

These issues of inequity aren’t just relegated to the city any more either, Sandoval said. “It is now being replicated in our suburban municipalities,” he continued.

The study looked at really affluent communities, with a median household income of over $111,000, such as Chesterfield, Clayton, Ladue and Town and Country. Then it looked at non-affluent communities, with median household income of $33,000, such as Ferguson, Berkley, Pagedale, Jennings, Normandy and, most startling of all, Pine Lawn. It was done in three parts, including collection of interviews and administrative data, to build relationships between them.

One of the most startling findings?

“Pine Lawn, a community of about 3,400 people, generated $1.6 million in fines for their community, an enormous percentage of their operating budget and another few-hundred-thousand in court fees,” Warren said. “Then you look at Chesterfield, a community of 47,000-plus people, that only generated about $1 million in fines.”

Listen to the full conversation here:

Want to learn more? Sandoval, Warren and others will be giving a workshop that examines the data in more detail at Saint Louis University’s Law School at 2 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 10.  If you would like to attend, RSVP to Henry Ordower at ordoweh@slu.edu, to receive directions and more information.

St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Mary Edwards, Alex Heuer and Kelly Moffitt give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region. 

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Kelly Moffitt joined St. Louis Public Radio in 2015 as an online producer for St. Louis Public Radio's talk shows St. Louis on the Air.
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