ST. LOUIS – Ferguson, Missouri, is making progress in the effort to end racial bias in police and court practices, but the city needs to be more transparent, attorneys for the U.S. Department of Justice told a federal judge Thursday.
U.S. District Judge Catherine Perry heard an update on a consent agreement reached in 2016. The St. Louis suburb has been under scrutiny since the August 2014 death of Michael Brown, an unarmed, black 18-year-old fatally shot by white officer Darren Wilson.
Wilson was cleared of wrongdoing and resigned in November 2014, but the shooting led to months of unrest and prompted a Justice Department investigation. A lawsuit filed by the Justice Department was settled last year when Ferguson agreed to the consent agreement that Perry was appointed to oversee.
Justice Department attorney Amy Senier gave Ferguson high marks for developing policies on issues such as officer recruitment and use of force. She said the city developed a citizen review board for police and is working to find additional ways to engage the community.
“We believe we are all working together in good faith to reach the requirements of the decree,” Senier said.
But Senier and some of the 12 residents who spoke at the hearing said they don’t believe the public is being kept informed about all of the efforts. Senier said she is particularly concerned about the city website, which she described as outdated on such things as how to file complaints or pay court fees.
Resident Nick Kasoff, who was a driving force behind a successful ballot initiative outlining strict requirements for police body and dashboard cameras, said that two months after the issue passed with 71 percent of the vote, “the city has acted as though it never happened.” He said the city website makes no mention of the requirements.
City Attorney Apollo Carey said the problem is the new law and the consent decree requirements about body cameras have conflicting provisions. Carey said the city is working to find a resolution, but until then, “the consent decree rules.”
Money to revamp the city website has been budgeted for the fiscal year that starts July 1, Carey said.
Another resident, Emily Davis, was critical of Clark Ervin, a Washington lawyer monitoring the consent decree. Davis said Ervin has not been accessible to the public.
“The community remains in the dark about the process,” she said.
Ervin said he has hosted public meetings and plans more. Perry defended Ervin, too, saying it’s up to Ferguson and the Justice Department to fix the problems, not the monitor.
Perry said it was clear that Ferguson was making progress. “Things are happening, I think, very impressively under this policy,” she said.
The city’s agreement with the Justice Department also requires hiring more minority officers, diversity training for officers, developing a community policing model and other changes. The process is expected to take years and cost about $2.3 million.