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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Reforming Monetary Sanctions, Reducing Police Violence


In the years since Officer Darren Wilson shot and killed Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, policymakers and advocates have pushed for reforms to both police practices and systems of fines and fees.  The connection between fines and fees enforcement tactics and police violence remains an important focus for reforms.  Police play a significant role in driving up the volume and amounts of fines and fees imposed, and they play a critical role in city and state collection efforts.  The use of police as debt imposers and collectors creates opportunities for police violence—both physical use of force, as well as more nuanced forms of violence through the exertion of coercion, fear, and control.  In this piece, I argue that specific policing tactics used to impose and collect fines and fees, and the wide latitude given to police via Fourth Amendment jurisprudence to engage in such tactics, facilitates conditions similar to those in Ferguson and results in unnecessary and oppressive police violence.  To combat this, I argue that fines and fees reforms must focus on the role of law enforcement in such systems, and how that role must be greatly limited to prevent additional violence.

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