Ferguson reform may be swift with federal agreement approval

AP News
|
Posted: Apr 20, 2016 7:05 AM
Ferguson reform may be swift with federal agreement approval

ST. LOUIS (AP) — Reforms are expected to begin quickly in Ferguson now that a federal judge has approved a settlement between the U.S. Department of Justice and the city where 18-year-old Michael Brown was fatally shot by a police officer.

Federal Judge Catherine Perry issued her ruling Tuesday approving the agreement after a lengthy public hearing in St. Louis. Perry called it a "reasonable resolution" that avoids an extensive court battle.

Mayor James Knowles III said the city has already implemented many reforms, and will act swiftly on others to "move into compliance as soon as possible." Some reforms are expected to be in place within 30 days, while the city has 60 days or 90 days on other components.

Ferguson has been under scrutiny since Brown, who was black and unarmed, was fatally shot by white Ferguson officer Darren Wilson in 2014. Brown's death was a catalyst in the national Black Lives Matter movement.

A grand jury and the Justice Department cleared Wilson, who resigned from the police force in November 2014, but the shooting led to a Justice Department investigation that found alarming patterns of racial bias in policing and a municipal court system that generated revenue largely on the backs of poor and minority residents.

Christy Lopez of the Justice Department said the settlement was formulated after lengthy negotiations with the city, but also after hearing from residents, protesters, neighborhood associations and others.

"We listened to everybody," she said.

Here are some of the highlights of the agreement, which is expected to cost about $2.3 million over three years:

— MUNICIPAL CODE: Within 30 days, the city is required to adopt amendments reforming the municipal code and eliminating laws deemed unnecessary, such as one governing how to walk in a crosswalk.

— ELIMINATING BIAS: The agreement calls for extensive training to help eliminate racial bias among police officers. It requires, within 90 days, new procedures to better screen police officer candidates. Analysts will be required to monitor police records for arrests, stops and other metrics. The city will have 180 days to come up with a plan to attract and retain a diverse police force.

— POLICE CAMERAS: The settlement requires police and jail workers to wear body cameras and squad cars to be equipped with cameras. Wilson was not wearing a camera, nor did his car have one, on the day Brown was killed. The city has 60 days to develop and implement policies for use of the cameras.

— PUBLIC COMPLAINTS AND PROTESTS: The agreement makes it clear that people can record police activity and issue complaints against officers without fear of retaliation, and they can engage in lawful protests. The agreement also calls for a monitoring team to review protest and demonstration policies and procedures with police and make revisions as deemed necessary.

— POLICE OVERSIGHT: Ferguson must establish a civilian board that will review, make findings and issue recommendations of disciplinary action related to allegations of excessive force, abuse of authority, use of discriminatory slurs and other misconduct. The city also must fully investigate all allegations of officer misconduct, and to take corrective action when necessary.

— COURT REFORMS: One finding by the Justice Department was that Ferguson used its municipal court as a means of making money, largely from poor and minority residents. The agreement gives Ferguson 60 days to remove the finance director from the role of municipal court oversight. It also requires new efforts to help people find ways to pay fines and fees without additional financial burdens, such as allowing community service instead of a fine, or delayed payment options.

— MONITOR TEAM: Ferguson will be monitored by a team of people, not by a single person, though no specific number was given. Each monitor will have expertise in a particular area. The monitoring team, expected to be hired within 90 days, will keep tabs on reforms and ensure that Ferguson is living up to the stipulations of the agreement. The team will remain in place up to five years, or until the city has been deemed in full compliance for two consecutive years.