The city of Ferguson, Mo., has tentatively agreed to improve its policing policies and train its officers to de-escalate confrontations and avoid the use of force except where necessary, according to a proposed consent decree reached by Ferguson officials and the Justice Department.
The 131-page agreement lays out a plan by city officials to establish long-term programs that promote interactions between the police and youth, revise the city’s municipal code so it does not harm “Ferguson’s most vulnerable residents” and ensure that officers are provided the training, supervision and support they need to police effectively but also “lawfully and ethically.”
The city would also require bias-awareness training of all court staff and police personnel, including supervisors and unsworn officers, according to the plan.
The Justice Department opened a broad civil rights investigation into Ferguson in September 2014 after the fatal shooting a month before of Michael Brown, an 18-year-old African American, by a white Ferguson police officer, Darren Wilson. A grand jury that fall decided not to indict Wilson, and last year, the Justice Department announced it would not pursue federal civil rights charges against Wilson because officials said there was no evidence to disprove Wilson’s belief that he feared for his safety.
But in March, the department released a report accusing the Ferguson Police Department of racial bias and routinely violating the constitutional rights of black citizens by stopping drivers without reasonable suspicion, making arrests without probable cause and using excessive force. It also released racist emails written by Ferguson police and municipal court officials.
“The city and the Department of Justice have been able to reach an agreement about which, we believe the entire Ferguson community has reason to be proud,” Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta said in a statement Wednesday. “The agreement fully addresses the breadth of the systemic deficiencies our investigation identified.”
Before the Ferguson City Council makes its final decision and votes on the proposed agreement on Feb. 9, the council is accepting public comments. Ferguson city officials have been involved in “hard fought and good faith negotiations” with the Justice Department, according to a statement by council officials.
“As in all negotiations, neither side received everything that they requested, and both sides made concessions,” the statement said, adding that the proposal avoids the time and cost of litigation.
Under the plan, the city would be required to create “a community engagement strategy” that requires meetings between police officers and all segments of the community with a focus on groups and individuals “that have not had strong or positive relationships” with the police, specifically youth and apartment tenants.
The city would also have to implement policies to ensure that the police department’s “stop, search and arrest” practices adhere to the Fourth Amendment and do not discriminate on the basis of race; protect individuals’ First Amendment rights, including their right to record public police activity and engage in lawful protest; and encourage recruitment and retention of a diverse work force “consisting of the highest quality officers.”
In addition, the police department would also be required to implement a “robust accountability system” that takes misconduct complaints seriously to collect data on its own operations to improve upon its police and court practices. At the same time, the decree recognizes that policing is a difficult, high-stress job and requires the city to ensure that officers and their families have the support services they need.
If the consent decree is agreed to by the Ferguson City Council, an independent monitor would review and report publicly on Ferguson’s implementation of the agreement.