Justice

Ferguson Refuses To Make Police Reforms Proposed By The DOJ

CREDIT: AP Photo/Jeff Roberson

Ferguson Mayor James Knowles III, who voted against the DOJ's consent decree on Tuesday

Eighteen months after Mike Brown was shot and killed, the Ferguson City Council unanimously voted against many of the Department of Justice’s proposed changes to the city’s unconstitutional law enforcement practices. The vote came after the release of four scathing reports about the city’s policing and court system, as well as months of negotiations about specific reforms.

On Tuesday night, the council conditionally approved the 131-page decree released last month, rejecting seven of its provisions. It denounced some of the salary and staffing requirements for police officers and jails, and asked for a $1 million cap on the amount of money the city has to pay federal monitors.

The council also pushed back on language that would apply the terms of the decree to any agency contracted by Ferguson to carry out its law enforcement activities. Executive Director Thomas Harvey of the ArchCity Defenders, an organization that provides criminal and civil legal services in St. Louis, told ThinkProgress this would effectively undermine the fundamental purpose of the reforms.

According to Harvey, there’s been discussion about passing Ferguson’s policing duties to the St. Louis County Police Department because those officers are better trained and paid to do the job. But removing the provision that an independent agency has to abide by the DOJ decree would allow St. Louis County officers to continue some of the unconstitutional practices that Ferguson has engaged in — such as making warrant-less arrests.

The consent decree bans “discrimination on the basis of race, color, ethnicity, national origin, religion, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, age, immigrant status, disability, housing status, occupation, or limited English proficiency.” It prevents law enforcement from implementing any revenue generating scheme. It requires officers to undergo extensive training and keep thorough records of all traffic stops and arrests. And it establishes guidelines for using force.

“If you think about what the Department of Justice is asking them to do, it’s really embarrassing that there would be any hesitation. It’s embarrassing [that] they had to spend this much time talking about this,” he said. “At it’s core, they’re saying ‘Don’t target poor people and black people for arrest, in order to raise revenue. And when poor people are jailed, don’t extort money from them.’ These are some of the most fundamental legal principles in our country, and we spent nearly a year arguing about that.”

“I think that the consent decree is as good as it’s going to get for Ferguson,” Harvey added.

Vanita Gupta, the leader of the DOJ’s Civil Rights Department, responded swiftly to the council vote.

“Both parties engaged in thoughtful negotiations over many months to create an agreement with cost-effective remedies that would ensure Ferguson brings policing and court practices in line with the Constitution,” she said. “The agreement already negotiated by the department and the city will provide Ferguson residents a police department and municipal court that fully respects civil rights and operates free from racial discrimination.”

By failing to accept some of the terms of the decree, Ferguson may now be slapped with a federal lawsuit.