08:24pm Sunday 16 February 2020

Researchers Examine How Citizens Perceive Treatment in Area Municipal Courts

Ken Warren, Ph.D., Political Science Department

Henry Ordower, J.D. and Brendan Roediger, J.D. (School of Law), Ness Sandoval, Ph.D. (Sociology and Anthropology) and Kenneth Warren, Ph.D. (Political Science) are participating in the police and municipal court study. Warren and Sandoval directed the comprehensive court survey of citizens exiting municipal court after their appearance in court and found that black residents expressed far more negative feelings toward their treatment by the municipal court systems in St. Louis County than white residents. However, whether black or white or other minority, respondents reported considerably more positive experiences with municipal courts in St. Louis County’s affluent communities than in the County’s non-affluent communities.

To test the hypothesis that blacks would perceive their treatment by municipal courts less positively than whites, 753 citizens were interviewed when they exited 13 affluent and non-affluent municipalities in St. Louis County between September 16 and October 28, 2015. The affluent municipalities averaged $111,734 in household income and included Chesterfield, Clayton, Creve Coeur, Frontenac, Ladue, Sunset Hills and Town and Country. The non-affluent municipalities averaged $30,154 in household income and included Berkeley, Ferguson, Jennings, Normandy, Pagedale and Pine Lawn, placing the income gap between the two dissimilar municipalities at $81,580.

The 13 municipal courts were examined as a system consisting of police, municipal court officials (e.g., court clerks, assistants, prosecutors) and judges. Black respondents, as compared to white respondents, viewed their experiences with police, municipal court officials and judges much more negatively, although they rated their encounters with judges much more positively than their encounters with police. For example, 21% of blacks rated their treatment by judges as “unfair” to “very unfair,” while only 12% of whites did. However, almost half (46%) of blacks ranked their treatment by police “unfair” to “very unfair,” while just 27% of whites did. Similar differences were found for how blacks and whites rated the professionalism, respectfulness, courteousness, considerateness and combativeness of those they faced in these municipal court systems.

A major finding was that the type of municipality (affluent v. non-affluent) was significantly more predictive of positive or negative experiences with municipal court systems than race. When all respondents were asked to rate their overall experiences with the municipal court systems within the affluent or non-affluent municipalities, 28.5% gave a “fair” to “poor” rating to the court systems within affluent communities, while a much greater percentage, 63%, rated the court systems within the non-affluent municipalities as “fair” to “poor.”

More specifically, in the affluent municipalities, only 12% of the respondents felt they were treated “unfairly” to “very unfairly” by the judge,” while in the non-affluent municipalities 30% felt this way. In the affluent municipalities 28.5% believed they were treated “unfairly” to “very unfairly” by the police, while in the non-affluent communities almost twice as many, 50.5%, did.

Blacks were much more likely than whites to say that racial profiling played a role in their traffic stop, 35% to 11.5%. This belief was found to be much more prevalent in the non-affluent communities with 34% of all respondents saying they felt racial profiling played a role with another 21% saying they were “unsure.” While 45% of the respondents believed that racial profiling played no role in their traffic stop in the non-affluent municipalities, a much higher percentage, 64%, felt that racial profiling played no role in their traffic stop in the affluent municipalities.

The study was funded as part of the Saint Louis University President’s Award for the project. Other parts of the project examine policing and municipal courts as revenue generating institutions for the municipalities and consider whether police and municipal courts are engaged in a taxing function possibly in violation of Missouri’s constitutional tax limitations.

Professors Ordower, Roediger, Sandoval, and Warren will be giving a workshop that examines data in more detail at Saint Louis University’s Law School at 2 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 10, 2016. Members of the University community who wish to attend the workshop should email Julie Orr at jorr5@slu.edu.

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