The U.S. Justice Department released its critical report of Ferguson, Mo., police practices almost a year ago. Michael Brown was shot by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson 18 months ago. Reform? Still a work in progress.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports the town voted last night to make changes to its draft agreement with the Department of Justice, possibly endangering that agreement and opening itself up to a potential civil rights lawsuit.
The town's city council voted to approve a draft consent decree with the Justice Department for the federal agency to monitor its courts and law enforcement as it institutes reforms. But before passing the agreement, the council added seven conditions to the draft, apparently without consulting the the Justice Department.
According to a press release from the city, those conditions include:
- That the city not be required to pay city and police employees more.
- That there be no mandate for additional staffing at the Ferguson Jail.
- That all the deadlines in the agreement be extended.
- That the agreement not apply if another entity takes over policing responsibilities in Ferguson.
- That a provision to give preference to local consultants, contractors and third parties providing services under the agreement be added.
- That goals for minority and women participation for those services be added.
- That changes and caps to the monitoring fee the city has to pay be added.
According to the Post-Dispatch, the city decided to add the conditions to the agreement over concerns the negotiated agreement was too expensive. The Justice Department wants 25% raises for police officers, which could in return require raises for other employees as well, and the city had a $2.8 million deficit last year.
One of the other conditions pretty much eliminates the entire agreement in the event that the Ferguson Police Department is dissolved. This would mean any agencies that took over policing duties in the town, the St. Louis County Police for example, would not be required to follow the agreement.
“It’s not a ‘no’ on the provision. It’s, ‘Let’s talk about the provision. Let’s figure out something we can all live with that actually makes sense,'" Ferguson Councilman Wesley Bell told the Post-Dispatch.
In a prepared statement on the council's vote posted on its website, the Justice Department didn't seem to be in much mood to talk.
"The Ferguson City Council has attempted to unilaterally amend the negotiated agreement," Vanita Gupta, head of the department's civil rights division, said. "The Department of Justice will take the necessary legal actions to ensure that Ferguson’s policing and court practices comply with the Constitution and relevant federal laws."
That sounds pretty ominous for Ferguson.