Following the police killing of unarmed teenager Michael Brown in August 2014, protesters were extremely vocal about wanting former Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson out. Amid widespread pressure to resign, Jackson eventually stepped down seven months after Brown’s fatal shooting — one of the many changes to Ferguson’s controversial police department.
Just a few months shy of the second anniversary of Brown’s death, Jackson’s replacement, Maj. Delrish Moss, will assume the role. When he’s sworn in Monday afternoon, he’ll have the enormous task of fixing a system that’s still teetering on the brink of disaster.
Before joining the Ferguson Police Department, Moss worked for the Miami Police Department for 32 years. A black officer, Moss told the New York Times that he is acutely aware of historical tensions between police and African Americans, as well as racism within law enforcement itself. To better reflect the municipality, one of the major reforms he wants to make is diversifying the department with more women and black officers. He also wants to build trust between officers and youth through a mentor program.
But attempts to overhaul the department have been slow and met with pushback. In February, the Department of Justice (DOJ) was forced to sue Ferguson, to get the city to comply with a consent decree that took months of negotiations to finalize. The primary goal of the decree was to end illegal, racially-discriminatory policing. However, the city council unanimously voted against it because of seven provisions, including salary and staffing requirements for police and the jail system.
“At its 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,’” Executive Director Thomas Harvey of the ArchCity Defenders, an organization that provides legal services in St. Louis, explained. “These are some of the most fundamental legal principles in our country, and we spent nearly a year arguing about that.”
Ferguson agreed to the terms of the decree one month after the DOJ filed its lawsuit. But consent decrees are temporary. Local lawmakers’ efforts to permanently reform Ferguson — and other St. Louis County towns that use their police forces to collect revenue — are still up in the air.
Last year, the state Senate passed SB 5 to limit the amount of revenue that each of the municipalities in St. Louis County, including Ferguson, could collect from traffic fines and court fees. The law also set minimum standards for the municipalities’ police forces, such has requiring accreditation. In March, a circuit judge struck down those provisions, after municipalities raised concerns that SB 5 violated the state’s constitution.
St. Louis County passed another measure in December to enforce basic uniform standards for the county’s 57 police departments. The departments subsequently had to follow county guidelines for car chases, background checks, use of force, and training. But those standards were struck down by a circuit judge in early May.
When Moss is sworn in Monday, he’ll have to reckon with all of the pushback against long-lasting reforms.
“Being the new guy from out of town, there’s always going to be some pushback. Even when the guy comes from within, there’s pushback, because there’s resistance to change,” he told the New York Times. “I am not nervous about it, I expect it. The challenge will be to figure out how to work around it, or there are some people who will decide the Ferguson Police Department is not where they want to be.”