Ferguson Police Begin Reform Following DOJ Report, Mayor Says

Mar 5, 2015
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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

And we turn now to NPR's Cheryl Corley who is in Ferguson. She's been listening to reaction today. The mayor of Ferguson, James Knowles, held a news conference this evening. And Cheryl, what did the mayor say he's going to do in response to this report from the Justice Department?

CHERYL CORLEY, BYLINE: Well, first the mayor spoke for less than 10 minutes. He read a statement. He didn't take any questions. But he said that during the past six months, the city has really worked to address the concerns that the Department of Justice has raised. He said they took Department of Justice officials on ride-alongs to see the police in action. He said the city is in the process of hiring three new police officers, that the city has hired a black, female correctional officer and two black, female assistant court clerks. He talked about an explorer program that the city has set up in an effort to engage youth and with the hopes of recruiting them later for future positions in the police department. And he says that the city has also created this task force to work on setting up a civilian review board. The mayor said that would be a first for the region. He did not talk, though, about whether or not the police chief, Tom Jackson, will remain on the force. And he did not talk about whether or not the city will work out a consent decree with the Department of Justice.

BLOCK: Did the mayor say anything, Cheryl, about those - those dehumanizing emails that we were just talking about with Carrie Johnson, that were referred to in that Justice Department report?

CORLEY: Yes, he did. He said that the city has determined that there were three employees of the police department that were responsible for those emails. And here's what he had to say about the situation.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

MAYOR JAMES KNOWLES: Let me be clear. This type of behavior will not be tolerated in the Ferguson Police Department or in any department of the city of Ferguson.

CORLEY: The mayor said that all three of those individuals were placed on administrative leave. One has since been fired. And an internal investigation for the other two is ongoing.

BLOCK: Now, the Justice Department report was very critical of the fees and court fines that have been levied over the years, weighing heavily on the minority population of Ferguson. What did the mayor say about that?

CORLEY: Well, the mayor said the city has gotten rid of several of those fees. For example, he said one, where people had to pay if a police officer oversaw the towing of a vehicle, is gone now, that failing to appear in court is no longer considered an offense that would cost an individual additional fees. And he said the municipal court has set up this system for anyone who has trouble paying fines, that that person would be able to talk to a judge or a prosecutor about a payment plan or an alternative sentencing. So he says that they've been working on that.

BLOCK: And again, unclear whether any of these remedies would satisfy the Justice Department, which was really talking about a whole culture within the city government that was discriminatory against - against the minority population.

CORLEY: That is absolutely true. You know, like I said, he read the statement. That was it. We didn't get a chance to ask him anything much more about that.

BLOCK: Cheryl, what have you heard from other people within the Ferguson community about whether they think this report will lead to better relations between the people of Ferguson and the police department?

CORLEY: Well, I talked to a number of people in the neighborhood where Michael Brown was shot and killed. They say that there's some satisfaction that the Justice Department affirmed a lot of what the residents have been saying here for years. They think it's a stretch, though, to say that there is going to be any change, at least right away. They expect this to be a long haul. And they're just waiting to see what's happening.

BLOCK: NPR's Cheryl Corley, reporting from Ferguson, Mo. Cheryl, thanks.

CORLEY: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.