Ferguson, Mo., and Justice Department Reach Tentative Deal on Police Reform, Use of Force

The city and the Justice Department have reached a tentative agreement to overhaul training, policies and practices in the wake of a federal investigation uncovering unconstitutional and discriminatory practices.

Scott Olson/Getty Images

The Ferguson, Mo., Police Department and the Justice Department have reached a tentative agreement to overhaul training, policies and practices in the wake of a federal investigation after the 2014 fatal police shooting of unarmed teen Michael Brown that uncovered unconstitutional and discriminatory practices.

According to the Associated Press, the overhaul comes after seven months of negotiations and most likely stops a potential civil rights lawsuit that could have been brought against the Police Department had no changes been made. The changes detailed in a 131-page proposal are a direct result of the Department of Justice’s investigative findings.

In August 2014, the 18-year-old Brown was fatally shot after a confrontation with Police Officer Darren Wilson. Brown’s death led to nationwide protests and national scrutiny of police officers’ use of excessive force when dealing with minority communities.

Although Wilson was cleared in the shooting, a federal investigation uncovered racial bias throughout Ferguson’s criminal-justice system.  

“A Justice Department report in March found that officers routinely used excessive force, issued petty citations and made baseless traffic stops in the city of about 21,000 residents, about two-thirds of whom are black. It also criticized the police force, which was nearly all white, and the court system for leaning heavily on fines for petty municipal violations as a source of revenue for the city government,” AP reports.

The city is expected to post the tentative agreement on its website and plans to hold three public forums to receive input from area residents.

A City Council vote is scheduled for Feb. 9.

AP notes that the plan outlines a complete overhaul of basic policing practices, which is set to include “how officers conduct stops, searches and arrests, use their firearms and respond to demonstrations.” There will also be adjustments made to the amount of jail time an offender receives for small infractions. 

Within 180 days of the agreement taking effect, “all patrol officers, supervisors and jail workers [will] be outfitted with body-worn cameras and microphones.” The cameras would be required to be activated during all traffic stops, AP reports. Officers who fire their weapons would have to explain within reason why they fired each shot. There is also planned training for officers and court employees in recognizing unconscious stereotyping and a diversity plan to attract new officers.

No word on how much this new initiative will cost the city, but Ferguson spokesman Jeff Small told AP that while the cost would be “significant,” voters would be allowed to consider two ballot measures to help decide how to cover the cost.