Overhaul: Ferguson, Justice Department agree on major police reform

© Rick Wilking
The city of Ferguson, Missouri and the US Government have come to an agreement on changes to be made in the city’s police force after the Department of Justice found that law enforcement had displayed a pattern of violating the rights of its citizens.

The agreement, officially reached between the city of Ferguson and the United States Federal Government, came after a brutal review by the Department of Justice, the New York Times reports. In an effort to avoid litigation and a drawn out legal battle, Ferguson officials agreed to attempt to transform the city into a poster child of community conscious policing.

According to NPR, the released draft of the consent decree was negotiated by both sides and creates guidelines for police training. According to the agreement, it is “designed also to increase transparency, strengthen accountability measures, and increase community and officer confidence that these systems are fair and consistent.

The agreement also goes on to create guidelines that focus on reorienting “Ferguson’s use-of-force policies toward de-escalation and avoiding force” in a complete overhaul of the municipal system, as well as requiring police to utilize body-worn cameras, NPR reported.

However, the agreement also included concessions from the city of Ferguson, such as “The [city of Ferguson] also recognize[s] that FPD officers often work under difficult circumstances, risking their physical safety and well-being for the public good.”

However, the agreement does not admit any guilt or evidence of wrongdoing on the part of the Ferguson Police Department, despite the findings of the Department of Justice.

The Department of Justice issued a report on its findings concerning the Ferguson PD on March 4, 2015. It said that it had found a pattern of unconstitutional behavior in the Ferguson PD, noting that while African-Americans represented 67 percent of Ferguson’s population, they accounted for 90 percent of traffic stops and arrests, NPR reported.

In addition, the Justice Department found “derogatory and dehumanizing” emails that had been sent during the workday from official police department and court officer accounts depicting President Obama as a chimpanzee and Michelle Obama as a bare chested African woman.

The city doesn’t agree with everything in the report. However, it does agree with the spirit of retooling its police force to become an “exemplar of modern community-oriented policing.

Within 180 days of the agreement’s effective date, the city has agreed to host small-group dialogues led by a neutral facilitator intended to create a dialogue between police and community members to improve trust between the two groups.

The community engagement plan will assist Ferguson PD representatives in organizing community meetings and other events. It will also create programs to foster positive relationships between police and the community’s youth.

Notably, it will “place emphasis on creating opportunities for positive interactions with communities of color and residents of Ferguson’s apartment complexes.

In addition, within 90 days of the agreement coming into effect, the city must hold community meetings to determine who will serve on a new Neighborhood Policing Steering Committee, which will be different from the Civilian Review Board that already exists. The Committee will serve as a vehicle for community members to provide input and advise the police department and the city.

A community mediation plan will also be implemented to find resolutions to certain disputes among community members in order to avoid the need for the involvement of the criminal justice system.

The agreement also lays out a plan to revise Ferguson’s Municipal Code. This includes repealing penalties for failure to appear upon arrest or summons, as well as repealing an authorizing fee for the withdrawal of a complaint.

The future of the agreement is in the hands of the Ferguson City Council. As approval of the agreement is necessary if litigation against the police department is to be avoided, the settlement will be put up for a vote on February 9th. Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta said in a letter to the council that “We remain hopeful that the city Council will approve the Agreement and that we will not have to resort to contested litigation.”