Ferguson Leaders Reverse Course, Approve DOJ Agreement to Overhaul Police Department and Courts

By Kenrya Rankin Mar 16, 2016

A month after the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) filed a federal civil rights suit against the city, Ferguson leaders have unanimously agreed to the terms of an agreement that will reshape its policing and court practices.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that the Missouri town’s city council voted last night (March 15) to implement the consent decree, which the city had previously negotiated with the DOJ. The 131-page document covers everything from guidelines for community policing to bias-awareness training to arrest quotas to use of force.

But in February, the city council failed to approve it, citing budget concerns. The DOJ responded with a lawsuit the very next day. Attorney General Loretta Lynch said, “We intend to aggressively prosecute this case and I have no doubt that we will prevail.”

Last night’s about face on the issue appears to be caused by a March 4 letter from the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, which said that the city’s finance director had overestimated the costs associated with the proposed changes and made it clear that if the council signed the agreement, the DOJ would drop the lawsuit.

Division head Vanita Gupta issued the following statement after last night’s approval:

Tonight, the city of Ferguson, Missouri, took an important step towards guaranteeing all of its citizens the protections of our Constitution. We are pleased that they have approved the consent decree, a document designed to provide the framework needed to institute constitutional policing in Ferguson, and look forward to filing it in court in the coming days and beginning to work with them towards implementation.

Michael Brown Sr.—father of 18-year-old Michael Brown, who was killed by a Ferguson police oficer on August 9, 2014—was at the council meeting last night. “This is Mike Brown’s legacy,” he said.