Ferguson Approves Police And Courts Overhaul — With Some Changes

February 10, 2016

The city council of Ferguson, Mo., agreed late Monday to implement intensive changes to the city’s police department and court system, under a consent agreement negotiated by city officials with the U.S. Justice Department. But, concerned about the price tag, the council made some changes.

If Ferguson and the Justice Department don’t agree on all the terms, federal prosecutors could file a civil rights lawsuit, which could proved more costly than the reforms, the Associated Press reported.

As the Two-Way previously reported, the package includes a number of facets, and would require the city to submit to independent monitoring.

The 127-page proposed agreement creates guidelines for training police officers on issues like when they should use force and how they can “reorient Ferguson’s use-of-force policies toward de-escalation and avoiding force.” The agreement also requires body-worn cameras and an overhaul of the municipal court system.

The implementation of the plan is expected to be pricey. The AP reports that “the city estimates it would cost $2.2 million to $3.7 million to implement the agreement in the first year, and $1.8 million to $3 million in the second and third years.”

The AP also reports:

“Councilman Wesley Bell, who proposed the changes, said he was confident the Department of Justice would agree.

“‘I don’t think there’s anything unreasonable,’ Bell said.”

The biggest change made by the council was dropping an increase in police officers’ salaries; officials believe that would also require higher firefighter salaries, at a cost to the city of $1 million, the AP reported. The amended plan will require Justice Department approval, but the city said it would begin making many of the changes immediately.

The approval of the amended document came at the end of a raucous city council meeting, at which many attendees voiced their support for the agreement as-is.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that audience member Kayla Reed said that, if the city had enough money to buy and use tear gas on protesters, it has enough money to follow the Justice Department’s requirements.

The price tag prompted some in the community to urge the council to reject the agreement, arguing that the plan could bankrupt Ferguson, which has an annual budget of $14.5 million, according to the AP.

The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, however, said in a statement on Tuesday that cost should not be a prohibiting factor and urged the council to vote yes.

“We encourage Ferguson officials to think creatively about how to meet the costs of implementation of the proposed consent decree,” Monique Dixon, LDF’s Deputy Director and Senior Counsel said in the statement. “This may include consulting with other cities that have successfully implemented similar consent decrees, accepting any free technical assistance from the DOJ, and applying for state or federal grants.”

The Justice Department began an investigation into Ferguson after white police officer Darren Wilson fatally shot Michael Brown, who was black and unarmed, on August 9, 2014. Wilson was later cleared by a St. Louis County grand jury and by the Justice Department. After the decision, the Justice Department opened an investigation into Ferguson’s police department. The consent decree was the product of the months of negotiation between the city and the DOJ.

At the city council meeting Tuesday night, citizens weighed in on the proposed plan, some claiming it was too costly to implement; other arguing it was too costly not to. Brown’s father, Michael Brown Sr., attended the meeting wearing a sweatshirt that read “Justice for Mike Brown,” according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

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