Tulsa, OK Criminal Defense & Family Law Blog

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Ferguson, Missouri Justice Department Reaches Tentative Agreement Re Police Procedure

Is the agreement to systemic changes in Ferguson police dept. indicative of a national movement?

It is possible that the tentative agreement to systemic changes in the Ferguson Police Department is a harbinger of positive changes in towns and cities nationwide. The changes agreed to are the result of seven months of careful negotiations following the fatal police shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown in 2014. It is hoped, and seems likely, that this current deal will avert a civil rights lawsuit in that case. Such a lawsuit, charging the police department with resisting necessary changes, could have been brought against the Ferguson Police Department by federal officials.

The agreement, posted on the city's website, is 131 pages in length. Three public forums over the next two weeks have been scheduled so that residents can have input into the final document. The federal agency also plans to hold a public hearing on the topic.

Provisions of the Agreement

According to the tentative agreement, the following changes must be implemented, the first three within 180 days:

  1. All patrol officers, supervisors and jail workers must wear body cameras and microphones; the equipment will be installed inside all squad cars.
  2. The cameras must be activated during all traffic stops, arrests, searches and interactions with individuals perceived as being in mental health crises.
  3. The municipal code will be altered to repeal sections authorizing jail for people who fail to pay fines for violations.
  4. All police officers and court employees will undergo annual training on "bias-free policing" in which they will be taught to recognize and dismantle their own subconscious prejudices.
  5. New training will also be required in procedures for stops, searches, arrests, use of force, and proper responses to protesters and demonstrators.

Perhaps most importantly, the agreement states that Ferguson will have to develop an innovative recruitment plan specifically focused on attracting more minority applicants to the police force. At the time of Brown's death, one of the major points of contention was that the police force was practically all white in a city that is largely comprised of people of color.

Though a St. Louis County grand jury did not indict former Ferguson police officer, Darren Wilson, who is white, in the death of Brown, who was black, deciding that evidence supported the officer's claim that he shot Brown in self-defense, this discrepancy remained a flashpoint for turmoil in the country.

Who will pay for the changes?

One of the reasons that public forums on the topic are considered essential is that the required changes in policing are going to cost the city a good deal of money. Either citizens will have to pay for the new services through increases in their property and sales taxes or there will have to be municipal layoffs.

Why the Changes to the Policing Procedures Are Necessary

After Brown's tragic death, followed immediately by community and national outrage, a federal investigation into the Ferguson police force uncovered widespread racial bias within the city's criminal justice system. The following defects in policing were reported in March by the Justice Department:

  • Routine use of excessive force
  • Common issuing of petty citations
  • Frequent baseless traffic stops
  • Heavy dependency on fines as a source of city revenue

The recent document, if it is enacted appropriately, is hoped to go a long way towards calming local tensions and providing a model for increased justice in other parts of the country.

If you have been charged with a crime, or are under suspicion, the sooner you contact an experienced criminal defense attorney to protect your interests, the better the outcome is likely to be.

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