CBS Local — Electing more black people to local government can prevent police from disproportionately ticketing black communities, according to a new study.
Cities with larger black populations rely more heavily on fines and court fees for revenue, the study says.
Analyzing data from more than 9,000 cities, researchers discovered that the average collection was about $8 per person for all cities that obtain at least some revenue from fines and fees. But that figure rose to as high as $20 per person in cities with the largest black populations, the study says.
The study’s authors, political science researchers Michael Sances of the University of Memphis and Hye Young You of Vanderbilt University, found that the trend continued to occur after controlling for other factors, including differences in crime rates and city population sizes.
When the researchers used a smaller sample of about 3,700 cities due to data access limitations, Sances and You found that the relationship between race and fines dropped by about 50 percent when at least one black person served on the city council.
“What a lot of cities do is rely on a source of revenue that falls disproportionately on their black residents,” Sances told Vox. “And when blacks gain representation on the city council, this relationship gets a lot better. The situation doesn’t become perfect, but it becomes alleviated to a great extent.”
But the researchers do not expect that even full black representation in local government would completely end disproportionate ticketing of black communities.
“There’s a degree of influence there for sure,” Sances said. “[But] we don’t assume city councils have perfect control over the police.”
The researchers cannot definitively explain why representation in local government reduces the relationship between race and fines so dramatically.
But one possibility is that black politicians are more likely to be receptive to black communities’ concerns, and thus become more active in voicing concerns with exploitative practices by police departments, according to Vox.
The study’s findings do not prove causation, and the researchers said no definitive conclusions can be drawn from their study alone. Although Sances and You attempted to control for any influential factors, the researchers said they could have missed something.
Sances and You said they hope to address any of their study’s limitations in future research.