Kinloch is a small post-apocalyptic town of approximately 300 people in North St. Louis County. The town is synonymous with violent crime and corruption. A former mayor was convicted on Federal corruption charges in 2011. The city council recently used the police department to block a newly elected mayor from physically assuming office because they felt she had committed voter fraud, but without any charges and thus any convictions in reference to this allegation.
At the street level, Kinloch is overrun with drugs and shootings, better known as a place to dump bodies and garbage then to raise a family. Statistically, it sports an overall crime rate per hundred thousand residents of around 1200 (the US average is around 210). However, the city wasn’t always like this.
The Reader’s Digest version of the story of Kinloch is essentially the story of White Flight. Black People began migrating into the area and the few individuals who made up the White population at the time fled in response. Kinloch became a defacto safe zone for Blacks in an otherwise segregated North County. For a time, the city thrived in spite of racist policy growing to a impressive size of 6500 at its peak in the Sixties, which interestingly is bigger than the modern day North County Municipalities of Pine Lawn, Velda City, Northwoods, Normandy, Pagedale, Hillsdale, Wellston, Vinita Park, Vinita Terrace, Hanley Hills, Bel-Ridge, Bel-Nor, Breckenridge Hills, Charlack, Riverview, Dellwood, Country Club Hills, Flordell Hills, or Moline Acres. .
However, the city of Kinloch was nearly destroyed by the expansion of Lambert International Airport in the late eighties, early nineties, which saw 75% of the population leave, many due to buyouts from the City of St. Louis or a steadily increasing regional crime rate that the buyouts didn’t help. What was more, city officials and police officers were marred in repeated scandals and arrests.
Breaking Kinloch was a process:
1.) Significant City Income reduction – Airport buyout of large percentage of residents + Diversion of through traffic due to airport expansion
2.) Reduction in services – With less money available, salaries for police officers and other city employees could not be competitive, which reduced the quality of these workers and gave rise to the appeal of corruption.
3.) Crime Increased – With poor quality / unethical officers, crime control / prevention in a struggling region was difficult if not impossible.
4.) A Spiral was Created – People continued to move out, crime continued to increase, and income dried up.
So now, Mack’s Creek Law, the law governing how much revenue may be collected in reference to traffic fines/court costs, is being altered to not only mandate a much lower percentage but to establish clear penalties for those that find themselves in violation. The current percentage of revenue in fines is set at 30% but that is expected to be lowered to 12.5% as soon as Governor Nixon gets around to signing the bill later this summer which has already been passed by the Missouri House and Senate. Some Municipalities like Pine Lawn currently operate by some estimates in the range of 60-70% of their city income on Traffic Fines and Court Costs.
This law comes in reference to the protests and riots in Ferguson and the DOJ report which claimed that the City of Ferguson was only interested in revenue collection over public safety. Looking at adjoining North County Municipalities like Pine Lawn, many people were left perplexed by the revenue argument when considering that Ferguson only made about 12-15% of its revenue in Tickets or Fines well below the 30% threshold by law and well below what it’s neighbors regularly sought in revenue regardless of the racial makeup of individual residents or governments.
The bottom line was that the story of Ferguson was improperly thrown together with the story of the rest of the North County Municipalities and now the amended Mack’s Creek seeks to punish all of the North County Municipalities for what happened in Ferguson.
What is likely intended to occur in these area is essentially a series of steps to make running one of these small fiefdoms more difficult than it is worth. Note the similar style from above:
1. Significant City Income Reduction – With many North County Muni’s making over 30% of their revenue from Tickets and Courts Costs, they are looking at an almost 18% reduction in their operating budget with many others seeing quite a bit more substantial reduction. This formula is combined with a post-Ferguson crime rate and death toll that continues to increase making residency even less palatable in the region.
2. Reduction in Services – Without the money to sustain governmental services, the Muni’s are looking at ways to cut costs and an easy way to do so in the current climate is to cut officers who are already viewed negatively throughout the region. The City of Northwoods, which sits next to Pine Lawn, has already stated in the news that if they do not significantly increase their tax revenue they will be unable to maintain a police department in order to comply with Mack’s Creek. The City of Bel-Ridge recently approved 5 officers for hire and all individuals were subsequently rejected by the police board. This may have been due to cause, or it may be a sign that their police department is also weighing their options.
…And then there is Wellston which I will discuss specifically in a minute.
3. Increase in Crime – This is already happening due to the Ferguson Effect and by criminals capitalizing on it. However, as policing services are consolidated, made worse by fewer numbers of officers in increasingly more dangerous areas, this is likely to increase exponentially.
4. A Descending Spiral is Created – At some point, the spiral becomes far too ingrained and the money simply isn’t there anymore to support the policing services necessary to bring a veritable Wild West under control again. What’s more, the net loss of income will actually raise the percentage of revenue derived from fines regardless of any city policy change and make municipal governments even more likely to violate Mack’s Creek.
For example, if I have a compliant city with an annual budget of $100.00, an acceptable level of revenue derived from fines is $12.50 (12.5%). Due to stories of violent crime victimization in my area, if I lose half of my population/revenue over an unspecified period of time, the total number of revenue could be reduced to $50.00. At that point, the same amount of tickets resulting in $12.50 would account for 25% of my revenue and would be vastly in violation of Mack’s Creek even though there was no attempt at raising further revenue through tickets/fines.
With the amended Mack’s Creek Law still unsigned by the Governor, there is still a lot of debate (read: Wishful Thinking) on how much of an effect the law will have vs. how far the law will get before legal challenges kill it. Some claim that the changes to the law are unconstitutional based upon the State exceeding it’s constitutional powers while others have taken an even more confusing jump down the rabbit hole.
In light of the DOJ’s report on Ferguson, which is the clear reason for the amended law, an exceptionally ironic argument has formed. A number of Mayors in the area are now claiming that the amended Mack’s Creek and the ultimate goal of the dissolution of the North County Muni’s is inherently racist because it seeks to eliminate the democratically elected governments of primarily Black areas. Of course, such an argument is to ignore the size of many of these venues. The segregationist layout of the North County Muni’s is essentially Gerrymandering based entirely upon race which is about as far removed from Democracy as one can get.
This week, the City of Wellston and the Village of Vinita Terrace have given over policing services to the control of the city of Vinita Park, a small municipality with its own fair share of problems. 23 Wellston officers were terminated though Vinita Park has advised that they are seeking to hire around 10-15 new officers, positions for which former Wellston officers are able to apply. The change came abruptly surprising many on the city council and in the community. In fact, the city of Wellston had even hired new officers as recently as four days before the dissolution. There are a number of obvious problems with this situation:
1. The three city governments intend to remain. There is no talk of a governmental merger of these three cities despite the fact that together these entities barely break five thousand people. They are also the source of their respective city’s policy on ticket revenue / court costs.
2. The crime rate average per hundred thousand for Vinita Park (Population 1881) is around 230. The crime rate for Wellston (Population 2331) is around 2400 per hundred thousand and that isn’t a misprint.
3. At the moment Vinita Park police are policing not only their own venue but also that of the crime ridden Wellston without any new manpower even if they’re seeking it. It doesn’t take much reasoning to see that policing services will suffer as a result of the lacking manpower.
4. Vinita Park already has a negative reputation, largely due to it’s Mayor James McGee who was responsible for the termination of all the city’s white police officers, later replaced with black officers some of which had questionable criminal histories. The mayor then bragged about getting rid of the former officers due to their race on a recording. A city clerk who McGee was regularly sexually harassing and propositioning had begun recording him in secret. The city would go on to pay out hundreds of thousands of dollars in civil settlements to the officers.
The dissolution of Wellston’s Police Department reveals a much more serious gushing wound to what I had a assumed was a slow bleed that would take much more time to materialize in noticeable change. What appears to be a last ditch effort at saving the municipal governments and keep the gravy train flowing to those in power may inadvertently lead to a speedier downfall of the region. Kinlochification tragically appears to be in effect.
To be clear, the Municipal Governments in North County need to either disincorporate or merge if for no other reason than to combat rampant corruption. However, there has to be a comprehensive strategy that takes into account the current violent crime situation and weigh the unintended consequences of any prospective actions.