A year after Michael Brown was shot and killed by a police officer in Ferguson, Mo., one of his close friends was reportedly injured in an apparent gunfight with police early Monday morning. While exactly what happened is unclear, the incident was a reminder that violence between law enforcement and civilians remains an inescapable reality in Ferguson and elsewhere, especially for young black men.
Yet there have been some important changes in the year since Brown's death that policymakers hope could improve relations between the police and the public. Here are a few examples.
Limiting traffic tickets
The city of Ferguson collected about $2 million last year in traffic tickets and court fees, a huge figure, as Wonkblog reported in November. That's an average of about $100 a year per person in the city. All of those tickets have been a source of frustration for residents, who feel that the police are exploiting them as a source of cash by citing them for minor violations.
Advocates for reform in the region said that Ferguson's reliance on traffic tickets to fund basic municipal services is a legacy of segregation. In order to avoid sharing schools and other public resources with blacks, St. Louis County's white residents divided the county into 90 little cities and towns, including Ferguson. Those cities are too small to survive on tax revenue alone, so many of them depend on fines and fees, advocates say.
When residents didn't pay those fees and fines, the courts often sent them to jail. The municipal court in Ferguson issued more arrest warrants than there are people in the city, including children, in 2013.
About 14 percent of Ferguson's budget is funded this way. In neighboring towns, the figures were even higher. Calverton Park, Bella Villa and Vinita Terrace all collected more than half of their annual revenue through fines and fees.
That all could change as a result of a bill that Jay Nixon, Missouri's Democratic governor, signed in July. The new law will limit the share of total revenue that municipalities in St. Louis County can collect through traffic fines at 12.5 percent.
The law made other changes, as well -- for example, capping fines, together with court fees, at $300 for minor violations.
The reforms will end the practice of "taxation by citation," said Sen. Eric Schmitt, a Republican whose district is in St. Louis County and who sponsored the legislation.
"These municipalities can no longer treat people as ATMs, and that's exactly what had been happening," he told Wonkblog on Monday.
Body cameras for police officers
In the months after Brown's death, protesters hoped that the officer who shot him, Darren Wilson, would be indicted. They wanted a trial in which both sides could present evidence in order to establish what happened.
An investigation by the Justice Department later corroborated some aspects of Wilson's account, and federal officials decided not to bring a case against him. All the same, some critics of the police say that a lack of hard evidence spares officers who use excessive force against protesters from legal consequences.
In response, U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch recently announced a $20 million federal program to help law-enforcement agencies buy cameras for their officers to wear while on the job. The body-camera initiative is controversial. Some argue that the devices will turn police into walking security cameras, and that they constitute a major invasion of civilian privacy.
What's more, video evidence isn't always dispositive. Despite footage of an officer apparently strangling Eric Garner on Staten Island last year, a grand jury did not indict the officer in Garner's death.
All the same, some pilot studies have found that civilians and police officer seem to get along better in the presence of body cameras, and they are popular with many chiefs of police, as Wonkblog reported last year.
Rules on military-grade gear
Following Brown's death, police in Ferguson met protesters in armored vehicles and camouflage, equipment that former attorney general Eric Holder warned could exacerbate distrust between law enforcement and the public.
In May, President Obama announced he would ban the federal government from transferring some types of surplus military equipment to local police agencies. The prohibited gear included fatigues, bayonets, grenade launchers, high-caliber ammunition and armored tracked vehicles (such as tanks). The president placed restrictions on other equipment, including explosives, riot gear and other armored vehicles.
"Some equipment made for the battlefield is not appropriate for local police departments," the president said.
The administration has also moved to limit civil asset forfeiture, a legal procedure in which law enforcement seizes cash or property from civilians who have not been convicted of a crime. The purpose of civil asset forfeiture is to help police dismantle sophisticated criminal organizations, but critics say that the police use it to take money from innocent people and spend it on heavy equipment that isn't really necessary for law enforcement.
Note: This post has been expanded with comments from Sen. Eric Schmitt.