The town of Parma, MO that I wrote about yesterday that had a population of just 740 and yet six police officers is not the only small Missouri with such a weird ratio. Beverly Hills, MO (not to be confused with its better known California counterpart) has easily bettered that, having 13 police officers for its population of just 600, or one officer for every city block.
Like many small cities, the police are used less for fighting crime and more for raising revenues, and the city says that this is not unusual.
In 2013, the town’s municipal court generated $221,164 (or $387 for each of its residents), with much of the fees coming from ticketing non-residents.
In a town like Beverly Hills, with almost no industry and a minuscule tax base, what makes civic initiatives possible is also what denies many people their freedom: tickets, and lots of them.
In 2014, Beverly Hills police officers wrote 3,818 tickets. The number seems immense given the town’s size, but according to Buchannan, it is not notable. “Some communities write that in a month,” he protests, noting that towns like Kirkwood, the majority white middle-class suburb where he grew up, have written a high number to little media scrutiny.
Jackson, the alderman, also sees no problem, noting that Missouri’s white rural towns escape scrutiny too. “Let’s look at these rural towns. You have a town with 63 people. They have police. They’re writing tickets. And nobody’s questioning their survival. Only ours.”
But in Beverly Hills, there two major differences when compared to Ferguson. One is that the police mostly ticket people passing through and who are not residents of the town thus not generating friction between the police and its own residents, somewhat like a small town called Linndale just outside Cleveland with a population of less than 200 people that generates nearly a million dollars in speeding tickets each year from transient drivers .
There is also another difference.
Ferguson’s white mayor, mostly white council, majority white police force and majority black population made it a national symbol of racial discrimination. The same cannot be said for Beverly Hills. Every town official is black; nearly all of its police force, including Chief Buchannan, is black; and 94% of the population is black. Both Buchannan and Jackson describe Beverly Hills as a peaceful and friendly community – and put the police at the center of that description.
Clearly this problem of using police to generate revenue is not limited to Missouri but has become a national scandal as municipalities everywhere look for ways to raise revenues without raising taxes.
The website Funny or Die has taken the video of a Missouri tourism commercial and added a new voiceover that draws your attention to recent events and highlights the fact that there are no black people in the ad at all.