Race, Representation, and Revenue: Reliance on Fines and Forfeitures in City Governments

Akheil Singla, Charlotte Kirschner, Samuel B. Stone

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Scopus citations


Historically, revenue associated with things like traffic citations—termed fines and forfeitures—has made up an insignificant portion of city revenue. In recent years, however, cities are increasingly reliant on these revenues. This changed without fanfare, meaning there is little understanding of how or why it occurred. One potential explanation is budgetary, meaning cities rely more on fines due to increased fiscal stress or demand for public safety services. Alternatively, existing research demonstrates that race and representation are significant predictors of crime and punishment outcomes, including traffic citations. Using a stratified random sample of California cities, this study investigates which of these factors explain city reliance on revenue from fines and forfeitures. It finds that cities’ reliance on fines and forfeitures is not associated with budgetary need or public safety service provision, but is associated with the race of the population and the racial composition of law enforcement.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1132-1167
Number of pages36
JournalUrban Affairs Review
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 1 2020


  • fines and forfeitures
  • nontax revenue
  • public finance
  • representation
  • representative bureaucracy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Urban Studies


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