Ferguson accepts US government's police reform plan

Ferguson, Missouri, city council accepts US government's police reform plan following US Justice Department civil rights lawsuit

Photo by: AP
Photo by: AP

Michael Brown Sr., left, shakes hands with Ferguson City Council member Laverne Mitchom following a meeting of the city council Tuesday, March 15, 2016, in Ferguson, Mo.

The city council of Ferguson, Missouri, on Tuesday voted unanimously to accept an agreement with the US Justice Department that calls for reforms to its policing and judicial system after the 2014 shooting of an unarmed black teenager that sparked violent protests.

In March 2015, a year after the fatal shooting of black teen Michael Brown by the police, a US Department of Justice report highlighted a long history of racial divides and inequalities in the practice of law enforcement in the St. Louis area.

The report urged reforms in several areas including police practices and the court system to fix racial issues and change the overall racial climate that intensified after a white police officer, Darren Wilson, shot dead the unarmed black teenager.

City officials indicated last week that they would likely accept the terms of the consent decree, after receiving assurances from the Justice Department that it would work with Ferguson to ensure the agreement would not cripple city finances.

Last month the city council accepted the basic terms of the agreement but asked federal officials to make changes related to pay levels for police officers and staffing levels at the city jail, declaring it was incapable of implementing the suggested reforms.

The US Justice Department filed a civil rights lawsuit against Ferguson, Missouri, last Wednesday, demanding compliance with the agreement.

The council approved the agreement without changes at its meeting on Tuesday evening, a vote that avoids "the time and cost of litigating the [Justice Department's] claims," the city said in a statement.

The city and Justice Department will ask a federal judge in St. Louis to approve the settlement agreement, with an independent monitor appointed to oversee reforms.

A number of American cities such as Seattle and Albuquerque have entered into police reform pacts.

The agreement with the Justice Department requires Ferguson's police department to give officers bias-awareness training and implement an accountability system. The city also agreed that police must ensure that stop, search and arrest practices do not discriminate on the basis of race or other factors protected under law.

The settlement also requires the city to change its municipal code, including sections that impose prison time for failure to pay certain fines.

The city has steadily been rolling out reforms on items such as court fines and bail bonds.

TRTWorld, Reuters