Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson announced Wednesday that he will resign from the leadership of a police department embroiled in scandal after the U.S. Justice Department concluded it routinely and systematically engages in racially discriminatory policing tactics.
Jackson’s resignation, which was sought for months by some community leaders and protest groups, is the third major shakeup in the St. Louis suburb’s leadership in the week since the Justice Department issued its report, which said the city’s officers used racially disproportionate policing to raise revenue — targeting black residents for stops, tickets and warrants.
In a resignation letter, obtained by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Jackson said his stepping down, which is effective March 19, comes with “profound sadness.”
“It has been an honor and a privilege to serve this great city and to serve with all of you,” Jackson said in the letter. “I will continue to assist the city in anyway I can in my capacity as private citizen.”
In a statement Wednesday afternoon, the City of Ferguson said Jackson will receive a severance payment and health insurance for one year, and that a national search will be launched to find his replacement.
Jackson’s resignation, which was first reported by Fox News, comes a day after Ferguson’s city manager resigned, and two days after the city’s top municipal court judge also stepped aside.
The resignations follow a scathing DOJ report about the Ferguson, Mo., police department, launched in part due to the Aug. 9 shooting of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown by a white police officer.
The shooting sparked massive protests — which at times turned violent — in Ferguson and throughout the nation, and prompted a renewed national conversation about race and policing. While a DOJ probe into the shooting itself concluded that the officer, Darren Wilson, was likely justified in killing Brown, a second investigation concluded that many of the complaints of the protest groups — primarily that they were subject to racially biased policing — were valid.
What remains to be seen is whether officials in Ferguson, some of whom have insisted that their police department should not be shuttered, will be able to convince federal officials that they are capable of reforming the department.
When the DOJ issues a patterns and practices report about a police department that finds evidence of discriminatory or unconstitutional policing practices, the city and the federal officials enter a negotiation period. The goal of that period is to craft a “consent decree,” which avoids the need for contested litigation by coming to a court-enforceable settlement. Under a consent decree, the city agrees to any number of reforms — often including the installation of a monitor for its police department.
Last week, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said the Justice Department is “prepared to use all the powers that we have” to ensure change in Ferguson. In answer to a question from a reporter about whether that included dismantling the police force, he replied “If that’s what’s necessary, we’re prepared to do that.”
That negotiation period has yet to begin, according to law enforcement officials, and some local officials said they believe Jackson and the others are serving as sacrificial lambs in an attempt to keep the department from being shuttered.
Officials with the St. Louis County Police Department, seen by some as the most likely agency to take over for Ferguson PD if it is disbanded, said they have not been contacted by anyone about taking over for the Ferguson Police Department.
“The St. Louis County Police Department is always prepared and willing, should a request be made, to step in and provide police services to the citizens of any of the municipalities within St. Louis County,” county police spokesman Brian Schellman said in a statement Wednesday. “At this time, the City of Ferguson has made no such request to our department regarding the St. Louis County Police providing policing services in any capacity.”
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