U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, a Missouri Democrat who recently appeared on National Public Radio's "Up To Date" to speak about current events in Ferguson, Missouri, referred to a Department of Justice report that pointedly criticized the practices of the Ferguson Police Department as unjust and profiteering.
The report, released March 4, gave the public insight into the practices of the city of Ferguson, whose police department has made raising revenue a key priority.
"It's taxation by citation. Two years ago a city of 20,000 people received 31,000 citations," said Cleaver, who represents Kansas City and a portion of western Missouri. "That's at least one citation per person plus 10,000 for visitors. The city is still surviving only on traffic tickets; there's virtually no industry there."
We wondered about Cleaver's claim regarding both the number of citations issued and whether "the city is still surviving only on traffic tickets; there's virtually no industry there."
John Jones, a spokesman for Cleaver, pointed us to the Department of Justice report to support his claim about the number of citations issued in the small city.
This report is blunt in its criticism of the Ferguson Police Department and provides evidence that city officials "routinely urge Chief Jackson to generate more revenue through enforcement."
"Ferguson police officers from all ranks told us that revenue generation is stressed heavily within the police department, and that the message comes from city leadership," the report states.
The report also discusses how the city is prolific at issuing citations and arrest warrants.
"Between July 1, 2010, and June 30, 2014, the City of Ferguson issued approximately 90,000 citations and summonses for municipal violations," the report says. Further research shows that 32,975 warrants were issued in 2013 by the Ferguson courts.
That last figure, the number of warrants issued by Ferguson courts, was the number Cleaver was trying to cite, Jones told us.
However, Cleaver said citations, not warrants — and that makes a difference.
Ferguson city clerk Megan Asikainen told PolitiFact Missouri that Ferguson issued 12,940 traffic and criminal citations in 2013.
That means Cleaver was off by nearly 60 percent.
'Virtually no industry'
Cleaver also said Ferguson lived off citations and had "virtually no industry."
Kathryn Jamboretz of the Saint Louis Economic Development Partnership called this claim "wildly inaccurate."
In 2013, fines and public safety accounted for $2.5 million in city revenue. Although that revenue is significant, it's certainly not the only source of income for the city. A variety of taxes provide the lion's share of revenue; that $2.5 million only represents about 13 percent of Ferguson's $19 million budget.
What about the claim that the city has virtually no industry?
Ferguson is home to a Fortune 500 company. Emerson Electric ranked 121st on the most recent Fortune 500 list with revenues of more than $24 billion in 2013. Its headquarters is less than a mile from the infamous Quiktrip of West Florissant Avenue that was looted and burned during the protests.
Even after the prolonged unrest following the death of Michael Brown, there has been industrial growth in Ferguson and surrounding north St. Louis County. According to the Ferguson Recovery Report, $480 million has been invested into North County, including a $300 million Boeing expansion — which is expected to bring 700 jobs, a $100 million Schnucks distribution warehouse for 400 jobs and a $15 million Centene facility, which is expected to bring 200 new jobs to North County.
When asked about his statement that there was "virtually no industry," Cleaver's chief of staff, Jones, told PolitiFact that the congressman was simply stating that the city could not survive in its current state without the extreme revenue generated by traffic and criminal citations.
Cleaver said Ferguson issued "31,000 citations. That's at least one citation per person plus 10,000 for visitors. The city is still surviving only on traffic tickets; there's virtually no industry there."
Cleaver was certainly correct in saying that the municipality of Ferguson issued an abnormally high number of citations and depended on that revenue to help fund city government. That's supported by the Department of Justice report, but his number was more than double the correct figure.
His comment about the city surviving only off of tickets is largely hyperbole.
Ferguson has been receiving about 13 percent of its revenue from fines and public safety, which provides the city with $2.5 million in revenue. That's a lot, but certainly not the only source of income for the city.
Cleaver's point that the Ferguson Police Department was raising revenue for the city is correct, but he cites the wrong numbers and makes a vast generalization about industry in Ferguson. We rate his claim Mostly False.