FERGUSON, Mo. -- The city government in Ferguson, the St. Louis suburb where protests broke out after a police officer shot and killed an 18-year-old in August 2014, has agreed to enter into an expansive deal with the federal government intended to end abusive policing and court practices that resulted in a broken relationship between law enforcement and the community.
A so-called consent decree between the Justice Department and the city government, approved by the Ferguson City Council on Tuesday evening, would put in place an extensive system meant to overhaul the city’s law enforcement and municipal court system. A federal judge has to sign off on the agreement before it goes into effect.
At a meeting on Tuesday night, members of the Ferguson City Council voted unanimously to approve the agreement with the federal government. The approval prompted cheers from the audience, which included many activists who have been protesting in the city in the 19 months since Brown's death.
Just over a year ago, the Justice Department released a lengthy report that outlined a pattern of constitutional abuses in Ferguson, which came under national scrutiny after former police officer Darren Wilson shot and killed Brown. DOJ found that many police officers viewed Ferguson residents, especially those living in predominantly black parts of the city, less as constituents and more as “potential offenders and sources of revenue.” Federal officials, using emails from Ferguson officials and police reports prepared by the city’s officers, painted a portrait of a government heavily infected by racial bias and that saw its police force as a revenue collection department instead of a law enforcement agency.
The consent decree is the product of months of negotiations between the city and lawyers in the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. But the deal nearly fell through last month when the city council voted to add several amendments to the deal, including one that mandated raises for Ferguson police officers that the city believed it could not afford. The Justice Department sued Ferguson the next day, and DOJ officials sent a letter meant to ease concerns about sections of the 131-page agreement that city officials worried would be too costly for the city.
Ferguson Mayor James Knowles, who once denied that Ferguson had a race problem and believed the Justice Department’s report put too much focus on race, said last week he was confident that the deal would be approved and called it the “right move going forward for this city.”
Ryan J. Reilly reported from Washington and Mariah Stewart reported from Ferguson.