By Kevin Johnson, USA TODAY
The Justice Department and city of Ferguson, Mo., have reached a tentative agreement to revamp the city’s troubled police operation by altering the agency’s deadly force policies, requiring new ethics training and recruiting a more diverse officer rank, municipal and Justice officials said Wednesday.
The proposal, which must be ratified by the Ferguson City Council, comes 10 months after Justice’s denouncement of racially biased policing in the city detailed in a report that was prompted by the fatal shooting of Michael Brown, an 18-year-old black man, by white officer Darren Wilson.
No criminal charges were filed against Wilson, who has since left the department, but the incident set off a national re-examination of law enforcement operations that continues more than 16 months after the shooting.
The agreement would, in part, revise the police department’s use of force policies with an emphasis “toward de-escalation and avoiding force — particularly deadly force — except where necessary, consistent with the full recognition of the sanctity of life,” according to a Justice letter to city officials, outlining the broad terms of the agreement.
In the letter, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta said the department would also be required to recruit a more diverse force. Currently, only a handful of officers on the more than 50-officer force are African-American in a city that is nearly 70% black.
“The agreement fully addresses the breadth of the systemic deficiencies our investigation identified,” Gupta wrote. “In many respects, this agreement simply encapsulates the elements that any small-to-medium-size police department can and should put in place to ensure that its officers conduct themselves in a manner that is constitutional and effective and that builds trust and genuine partnerships in diverse communities.”
Among the most serious findings in the Justice review was that in nearly 90% of cases in which Ferguson documented the use of force, those actions were used against African-Americans. A review of 161 such cases by Justice investigators found none of the incidents resulted in disciplinary action. Police Chief Tom Jackson announced his resignation in the days after the Justice findings were made public in March.
“Given the nature and scope of the deficiencies … the agreement recognizes that necessary reforms must be memorialized in a court-enforceable and independently monitored agreement to ensure they are fully implemented,” Gupta wrote.
In a written statement, the city said the tentative deal is the result of “hard fought and good faith negotiations.”
“As in all negotiations, neither side received everything that they requested, and both sides made concessions in order to reach an agreement,” the city said. “This agreement, if approved, avoids the time and cost of litigation and allows the city to continue its focus to ensure constitutional policing and court practices and thus provides these benefits to the citizens of Ferguson.”
A series of public hearings are scheduled next month through Feb. 9 before the city council votes on the proposal.
A major consideration in the ratification of any deal, city spokesman Jeff Small said Tuesday, would be the cost of its implementation.
Small estimated the city would likely face an obligation of “hundreds of thousands of dollars” to pay for a monitor to enforce the agreement as well as additional training and equipment.
Those financial considerations come at a time when the city faces a $2.8 million budget deficit.
“All of these things have a price tag,” Small said. “This is not going to be an easy pill for the public to swallow either way.”
The city also is in the middle of considering a pool of “several dozen” candidates vying to serve as chief of police. Small said officials are on track to make a selection by March.
“The person who gets this job will have to have an excellent temperament (and) a strong grasp of procedural justice while maintaining high visibility in a community that requires immediate accountability,” said Glendale, Ariz., Police Commander Andre Anderson, who recently served as Ferguson’s interim chief.
“Not everyone is built to meet this challenge,” Anderson said in a recent interview with USA TODAY.