Ferguson City Council accepts Justice Department plan
By Ray Sanchez, CNN | 3/16/2016, 10:50 a.m.
(CNN) -- Ferguson, Missouri, averted further legal woes Tuesday by unanimously agreeing to accept a U.S. Justice Department overhaul of its troubled police force and municipal courts.
The DOJ, alleging a pattern and practice of unconstitutional police conduct, sued the city last month after the City Council voted to change the terms of a deal negotiators had been hashing out for months.
In a statement, Vanita Gupta, head of the agency's Civil Rights Division, called the city council vote "an important step towards guaranteeing all of its citizens the protections of our Constitution."
Negotiations over reforms to the city's police force and municipal court system began after a Justice Department investigation last year found the Ferguson Police Department had discriminated against African-Americans, targeting them disproportionately for traffic stops, use of force and jail sentences.
"Our No. 1 goal is to not only move the city but the entire region forward," Ferguson Mayor James Knowles III said in a statement. "We have heard the concerns of the community and we're looking forward to working with our citizens."
The national spotlight on Ferguson began after the fatal shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown by Officer Darren Wilson in August 2014. Brown, who was unarmed, was black, and Wilson is white. Brown's death prompted days of protests and riots in Ferguson and a national conversation about the role of race in police interactions with citizens.
"This is an opportunity to show the entire world that we can and will work together," Councilman Wesley Bell said in a statement.
In a 6-0 vote, the council voted in favor of a bill authorizing the Justice Department consent decree.
City officials last month insisted that their vote wasn't a rejection of the Justice Department consent decree but rather a push to return to the table because of concerns over the cost of some terms.
At the time, council members expressed reservations about having to pay additional salary to police or other city employees, among other things.
Ferguson spokesperson Jeff Small said the DOJ has assured local officials that it will help identify resources to fund the measures.
The city and the Justice Department will file the settlement agreement in St. Louis federal court in St. Louis for approval.
The agreement was negotiated over seven months.
The consent decree requires the city to hire additional senior staff dedicated to the implementation of the deal and in areas such as crisis intervention and community-police relations. Other costs to the city of Ferguson would include the creation of an electronic complaint tracking system, an early intervention system and training throughout various levels of the police department.
Brown's parents filed a wrongful death suit against the city in April.
A 102-page report issued by the Justice Department last March said some Ferguson police officers saw residents as "sources of revenue," leading to practices that federal investigators said disproportionately targeted black residents.
It also found evidence of racist jokes sent by some Ferguson police officers and court officials.
The department made 26 recommendations, including: Ferguson police provide training to ensure officers aren't using bias in policing; officers practice community policing by getting out of cars and getting to know communities; focus police stops, searches and ticketing on protecting the public, as opposed to fund-raising for the city.
In March, The Justice Department declined to bring civil rights charges against Wilson in Brown's death. Justice Department investigators concluded Brown was moving toward the officer when Wilson fired.
A grand jury also declined to indict Wilson, who left the force in November 2014.
CNN's Sara Sidner, Catherine E. Shoichet and Ed Payne contributed to this report.