Justice Department Reaches Agreement With Ferguson, Mo., Over Police Practices

Mar 18, 2016
Originally published on March 18, 2016 6:29 pm
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Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

The U.S. Justice Department and the city of Ferguson, Mo., have finally reached an agreement to overhaul the police and local court system. The deal follows a scathing federal investigation that found police there had routinely violated the Constitution. NPR's Carrie Johnson has the story.

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: Just last month, Ferguson Mayor James Knowles told NPR he and the Justice Department had not come to a meeting of the minds.

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JAMES KNOWLES III: Let me be very clear about this, there was no agreement.

JOHNSON: But this week at a City Council meeting in the St. Louis suburb, another story.

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UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Councilman Bell.

WESLEY BELL: I.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Councilman Kallstrom.

KEITH KALLSTROM: I.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Councilwoman Mitchom.

LAVERNE MITCHOM: I.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Councilman James.

DWAYNE T. JAMES: I.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Mayor Knowles.

KNOWLES: I.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Councilwoman Jones.

ELLA JONES: I.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Bill 7112 passes.

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JOHNSON: Council members voted unanimously to approve a deal that would put an end to discriminatory policing practices in Ferguson. The deal requires closer supervision of police, new training to limit their use of force and deeper investigations into officer misconduct. Vanita Gupta leads the Civil Rights Division at Justice. Gupta says when it comes to Ferguson, better late than never.

VANITA GUPTA: All Ferguson residents and police officers deserve a law enforcement system that really serves their entire community. And the consent decree is now going to aim to ensure constitutional policing and core practices for all of its residents.

JOHNSON: Gupta says an independent monitor will be watching the city and publishing progress reports. Mayor Knowles told St. Louis Public Radio city officials accepted the bargain because the federal government will help Ferguson find a way to pay for it.

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KNOWLES: I feel like this won't be a yoke around our neck.

JOHNSON: The Justice Department says the problems it uncovered in Ferguson are far from unique. Gupta says they're already turning attention to other cities where police and local courts may be more focused on generating revenue than protecting public safety.

GUPTA: And the goal truly is to ensure that our criminal justice systems are not criminalizing poverty and are indeed ensuring that the Constitution and federal law is being abided by.

JOHNSON: Gutpa says locking people up for failing to pay traffic tickets or small fines can trap them in a cycle of poverty and it can erode trust in communities like Ferguson and beyond. Carrie Johnson, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.