Ferguson Fails to Approve DOJ Policing Agreement, Now Open to Civil Rights Lawsuit

By Kenrya Rankin Feb 10, 2016

Late last month, Ferguson, Missouri, officials and the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) reached a tentative agreement on what needs to be done to make the city’s justice system riddled with systemic racism work for all of its residents in the aftermath of Darren Wilson fatally shooting Michael Brown. Yesterday, the city council failed to approve that agreement.

The 131-page consent degree—which included provisions that would change everything from the way police officers are trained to the discipline measures they face for using unnecessary force—needed to be approved by the city to go into effect. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that the Tuesday (February 9) night vote did not give the go ahead for the full agreement, with council members citing budget concerns as the impetus for key deviations. The failure to approve the entire agreement leaves the city open to a civil rights lawsuit from the Justice Department.

Vanita Gupta, who heads the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division, issued a statement following the vote: 

The Ferguson City Council has attempted to unilaterally amend the negotiated agreement. Their vote to do so creates an unnecessary delay in the essential work to bring constitutional policing to the city, and marks an unfortunate outcome for concerned community members and Ferguson police officers. Both parties engaged in thoughtful negotiations over many months to create an agreement with cost-effective remedies that would ensure Ferguson brings policing and court practices in line with the Constitution. The agreement already negotiated by the department and the city will provide Ferguson residents a police department and municipal court that fully respects civil rights and operates free from racial discrimination.

The Department of Justice will take the necessary legal actions to ensure that Ferguson’s policing and court practices comply with the Constitution and relevant federal laws.

The Ferguson City Council issued a press release detailing the modified agreement the six-person body approved. It cites seven amendments to the degree, which it plans to submit to the DOJ for approval:

1. The agreement contain no mandate for the payment of additional salary to police department or other city employees

2. The agreement contain no mandate for staffing in the Ferguson Jail

3. Deadlines set forth in the agreement are extended

4. The terms of the agreement should not apply to other governmental entities or agencies who, in the future, take over services or operations currently being provided by the City of Ferguson

5. A provision for local preference in contracting with consultants, contractors and third parties providing services under the agreement shall be included

6. Project goals for minority and women participation in consulting oversight and third party services shall be included

7. The monitoring fee caps in the Side Agreement are changed to $1 million over the first five years with no more than $250,000 in any single year

But opponents point out that the Fourth Amendment would leave the door open for the city to disband the current police force and put in place another that is not beholden to the agreement.

The city estimated that it would take between $2.2 and $3.7 million to implement the first year of the agreement. Ferguson’s annual budget is $14.5 million.