We received our first rejection of a Freedom of Information Request from the Department of Justice earlier this year. The reason for the rejection was an exclusion in the FOIA Act, which allows the withholding of information that could be expected to interfere with an enforcement proceeding. Essentially the DOJ denied our request by arguing that providing transparency might keep the Consent Decree from being enforced. We strongly disagree with this analysis, and instead believe that the DOJ, by not providing transparency, is hindering Ferguson's ability to heal and move forward. A copy of the appeal as filed is HERE.
Hi everyone. The staffing levels of our Ferguson Police Department (FPD) are of great concern for all Ferguson residents. As part of the Consent Decree, the FPD is preparing a recruiting plan for submission to the Court and the Department of Justice. Here is a LINK to the plan. If you are concerned about the police staffing levels, now is your chance to make yourself heard to the Council, the City and Department of Justice.
To summarize the plan:
* The draft plan does a good job of outlining the steps we will take to add new recruits that will go through the police academy.
* It does not address lateral hires, hiring experienced police officers from other departments or retired officers, even though the city is doing this.
* The DOJ is likely to be happy with the approach - a rebuilding of our police force from the ground up.
* The residents will likely not be happy with the plan – it does NOT contain the numeric goals necessary to rebuild our police force anytime soon.
Again, now is your chance to let the Council know your thoughts on recruiting goals and timelines. Contact your Council, Mayor, City Manager and let them know how important it is that we rebuild police staff levels as quickly as possible.
Thanks everybody for your attention to this. Working together as a community we can make sure the Council and administration act to pick up the pace of hiring.
We are starting to move forward with our efforts to bring transparency to the Department of Justice’s work in Ferguson.
Five Freedom of Information Act Requests have been filed with the Department of Justice, requesting the release of a wide range of documents and information related to the DOJ’s investigation of the Ferguson Police Department. The requests ask for information related to:
We aren’t pursuing this information in an attempt to get the Consent Decree overturned. We support the great majority of changes to our courts and police department. However we do continue to believe that the Department of Justice unfairly represented the actions of the FPD, presenting Ferguson as an evil, racist caricature to advance the political and policy aims of the DOJ and satisfy the protest community. Sometimes it takes a rousing tale of good and evil to bring change, even if it’s not true – “Remember the Maine”. The civil rights movement had stalled, and is now restarted, a good thing for our country. Ferguson is happy for this. But it’s hard not to think that the caricature the DOJ created is now standing in the way of progress, standing in the way of a more honest conversation about race. And the truth is that the reality of race in America is complex and nuanced and just as much local as it is national. The caricature of Ferguson might have suited the needs of the Justice Department at that moment, but it doesn’t serve the truth or the goal of advancing social justice.
The protesters had a slogan – no justice, no peace. There can be no justice without the truth, either. So we are asking Department of Justice to release all of its data, information and analysis related to the Department of Justice’s Report on the Ferguson Police Department. We are asking for transparency and truth from the Department of Justice.
We need to help keep an eye on our town and give our police more tools to keep our streets safe. Video captured by commercial and residential security systems has become an important tool in helping police solve crimes. Several police departments, including the Brentwood police department, have started voluntary registries for homeowners with video security systems so police can know where video might be available.
We are working to start a Digital Neighborhood Watch for Ferguson. We want the police to have access to video footage for every neighborhood in Ferguson. The video won’t stop a crime when it’s occurring, but if it captures a face or license plate it can give the police a far better chance of identifying the culprits during their investigation. Click HERE for a downloadable pdf of this post.
We are looking for volunteers to help with the project. There are lots of different ways that residents could participate:
If you are interested in helping or learning more, email us at: KeepFergusonsafe@gmail.com
Our goal is to assemble a network of resident-owned video cameras pointing at every street and intersection in Ferguson. You can participate in several ways: with your existing video security system, helping to evaluate video cameras, buying a wifi video camera and pointing it at your street or working with several homeowners to buy.
With your existing video security system: If you have a security system with exterior facing video and would be willing to share video with the police, we are asking you to send us an email so we can add your system to the list for the Police. We need your address, which street or streets are covered by your system and if you also have other views that might be useful, for instance your backyard.
Help evaluate different security camera options. Video image quality, storage options and cost can vary greatly among different cameras. We would like to identify a camera that we can recommend to homeowners that want to participate. This will make it easier for homeowners to know what to buy and easier for volunteers to review video. If you have a camera that can capture license plates or would like to help research different options, send us an email and we will add you to the working group.
Buying a wifi video camera and pointing it at your street: Any good, high resolution, wifi-enabled video camera with Cloud storage should work. If we can get a group of homeowners to commit to purchasing camera we might be able to get a volume discount. We can possibly help with the installation.
Working with other homeowners to buy a camera for your street: Our goal is a wide distribution of video cameras at each street intersection. Several homeowners on a block could chip for a camera to be placed at one of their houses, pointed at the street or intersection. If you are interested in buying a camera, or possibly chipping in to buy a camera for your street, send us an email at KeepFergusonsafe@gmail.com.
We would like to assemble a group of volunteers to review video. Our police department is going to be short staffed for a while. Instead of having the police go through hours of video from different cameras, our hope is we can use volunteers to first review the video, identifying those parts that might be of interest and possibly even capturing video stills of people, cars or license plates. The more we can streamline the process for our police the more effective we will be. If you’d like to volunteer to screen video footage, let us know – we are building a list.
The Volunteers could also collect the initial video clips. If a homeowner buys a camera with Cloud (Internet) storage, the Digital Neighborhood Watch project can be given Internet access to that camera’s video feed. If there is a request for video, volunteers could pull the video directly from the Internet storage, instead of asking the homeowner to do so.
Our goal is to eventually collect video to a central video storage location. Ideally video streams from the different cameras around the city can be collected onto a single secure video server (with permission of the camera owners, of course). This would greatly simplify the task of reviewing footage. It will take some time, but we would like to eventually begin exploring centralized video storage options.
How the Police would request and receive footage:
Security and Privacy. The list of video camera locations will be private and only made available to the Ferguson Police Department. Logins for any Internet storage will also be kept private, and only used to download video at the request of the police.
We can help keep Ferguson safe. Ferguson is going in the right direction, but it’s going to take some time to rebuild our police force. A digital neighborhood watch can be an important tool for police, helping their efforts to keep Ferguson safe. Email us at KeepFergusonsafe@gmail.com if you would like to help.
A small group of protesters, mostly non-residents, have become a regular fixture at the Ferguson City Council meetings. Many, individually, are very nice and those that are residents seem to care about our City in their own way. As a group, unfortunately, it seems they feed off of each other, competing to see who can be more hateful and rude. At the April 26th City Council meeting, the protesters put on display almost all of the things most residents dislike about them.
They did yet another performance art piece. We continue to be baffled by what the protesters think they are accomplishing with performance art like the “Construction Workers” vests or the “Lost Dog” posters. For this meeting they did a “Group Reading” of the recent Post Dispatch article unfairly attacking Stephanie Karr. They made a show of reading their copies of the paper, and then during public comments five or six of them read through the article during their two minute speaking times.
They apparently don’t read anything from the City. The meeting agenda noted a first reading of a modified version of the property tax for the next election. When it came up the protesters were shocked, angry and very loud.
They act as if the normal rules of a meeting don’t apply to them. When the Council began discussing the tax increase, the protesters started rudely shouting and even cursing at the Council and Mayor. The time to express their displeasure would have been the public comments portion of the meeting (when they apparently were too busy with their art project to pay attention to what was actually going on). Instead, they chose to ignore meeting rules and even common courtesy when it was our elected officials’ time to talk.
They seem to think that there is only one acceptable position for every African American, and they alone decide what that position is. The protesters regularly attack African Americans whose opinions differ from theirs, in this case Ella, Laverne, Wesley and De’Carlon. The protesters really seem to think that they and they alone speak for every African American in the City of Ferguson, and that any divergence from their position by other African Americans is somehow proof of race betrayal.
They use terrible, hateful language to attack Ella, Laverne, Wesley and De’Carlon. It’s almost shocking hearing some of the things the most hateful of the protesters say. Everything from suggesting that our African American officials are too stupid to understand the numbers for themselves to calling them Uncle Toms to questioning their integrity by suggesting they have sold out their own race. Truly hateful language from people that claim to be fighting for human dignity and respect.
They made more mean spirited attacks against Stephanie Karr and Jeffrey Blume. This is probably the most disappointing of all. The protesters have gone out of their way to make the attacks against both very personal and mean, questioning their character and ethics. All Stephanie is doing is her job. And Ferguson wins awards for its financial management and transparency under Blume’s guidance. No person just working for a living should have to endure this kind of meanness; protesters should be ashamed of themselves for acting like grade school bullies.
They can’t see the irony of their position. Before we signed the Consent Decree, when we brought up the fact that the costs would have to be paid by our mostly African American population they suggested we were just against the Decree. Now that the City is actually proposing a tax increase to pay for the Decree, they are calling it a “Black Tax”. Did they really, really believe that the magic unicorn would come in and pay for everything?
Our hope is… that at some point the protesters will realize their antics aren’t helping to achieve their goals or helping the City move forward.
It’s been a trying couple of years, particularly for long-time Ferguson residents; it was hard to read the lies written about Ferguson, one of the most diverse, progressive cities in St. Louis. But the worst of the storm has passed. The cleanup will take a while, but we will get there – the Ferguson we know and love will continue.
We will get the finances figured out. Facing over a million dollar budget deficit is daunting, and will require hard choices. However we have to keep it in perspective – it’s about 8% of our budget. A lot of money, but nothing we can’t figure out. Probably every person in Ferguson has gone through a time where they had a drop in income, or a spike in expenses and the vast majority of us managed to figure it out. We might have had to defer the landscaping project in the back yard or shorten the vacation, but we made it through. Ferguson will make it through as well. Citizens might have to chip in and help a little more and it might mean the parks aren’t quite as well maintained for a year or two, but we will get it figured out.
Improving public safety will close much of the budget gap. It’s touchy to talk about traffic fines revenue, but this is a big part of the answer. Before 2011, when the City made a conscious decision to increase traffic fines, the City averaged about $1.3 million in annual traffic fines revenue, about average (all cities have traffic fines as part of their budget). From 2011 to 2014 traffic fines increased to $2.6 million. After the protests Ferguson pulled back from enforcing the traffic laws and it has had a significant impact on public safety, both anecdotally and statistically. Residents now regularly complain about people speeding dangerously through their neighborhoods and there are more traffic accidents. Traffic fine revenue is now about $400,000 a year. Ferguson is getting back to enforcing traffic laws, and not only will this make us a much safer community, it will also close much of the current budget gap. Breaking the law is breaking the law.
Property Values will also come back, and with it higher property taxes for the City. North County property values are slowly starting to come back. As importantly, nothing that happened in the last two years has changed what is one of Ferguson’s greatest strengths – it’s physical beauty and great housing stock. It’s not homerism to say that Ferguson, with its rolling hills and hundred year old historic homes, is one of the most beautiful communities in St. Louis. Ferguson home prices have stabilized and are slowly starting to increase.
The Truth about Ferguson will eventually come out. Mark Twain had a quote: “A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is still putting on its shoes”. If ever there was an example of this saying it was the press’ treatment of Ferguson. But the truth does always eventually win out, and it will do so here in Ferguson as well. Please be assured that we will keep on fighting this fight, and over time will clear Ferguson’s name.
Ferguson will be okay. Everybody take a deep breath. The storm is over, the cleanup has begun. The wonderful, kind people that make Ferguson such a special community are still here. Ferguson will survive, and yes thrive.
The Ferguson Decree has been approved by Federal Judge Perry. It is something we can live with and much of it will make us a better city. More work is to be done.
As most Ferguson residents know, the City has received a letter of clarification from the Department of Justice and is now going to vote to approve the Consent Decree. While in some ways our preference would have been to fight the DOJ all the way to court, the City Manager, Council and Mayor all believe signing the clarified Consent Decree is the best move for the City. After careful consideration, we agree – the City needs to sign the Consent Decree and move forward.
A part of us was looking forward to clearing Ferguson’s name in a trial. A great many residents are very frustrated at the distortions in the DOJ Report on the Ferguson Police Department and the almost slanderous portrayal of our City by the two Attorney Generals. A trial and the discovery process would have forced the DOJ to actually release the information behind their charges against our police department and we believe would have highlighted just how distorted the report was, from anecdotes that are demonstrably untrue to purposely skewed data.
United we Stand, Divided we Fail. Ferguson is a community divided. Anyone who has witnessed recent events in Ferguson cannot deny the divisions and distrust that exists in our community. From protesters to community members to law enforcement to city administration, it has become us against them. Racial epithets, labels, slurs, accusations, intimidation, to name just a few of the issues, happen far too often in Ferguson today. It is time for us to turn a new page together and put the past where it belongs - behind us. Many among us claim to have been treated differently and those of us that have not experienced this must accept those feelings honestly. Likewise, those that claim such treatment must be ready to let the past go and move forward in a constructive manner. This is our opportunity to move into that new place as an example of how diversity can work in a community such as Ferguson.
The Mayor has said from the start that signing a financially realistic decree was in the City’s best interests. Going to trial would have been extremely expensive and taken several years. Ferguson would have been unlikely to completely win, and would then still be faced with the costs of whatever a judge imposed. Ferguson would have also had a much harder time moving forward as a City with the contentiousness of a lawsuit hanging over us. Signing the clarified Consent Decree allows us to avoid the cost of litigation and start moving forward. It also gives our city a better chance to control the narrative to highlight the positives going on in Ferguson.
With the clarifications, the financial costs of the Consent Decree have been reduced by about half, to something we can afford. Projecting costs is always difficult and subject to many variables. Our City Manager and Budget Director’s initial projections were based on a financial interpretation of general language in the decree. Their initial projection of costs was over $2 million in the first year and over a million for each subsequent year of the decree, a cost that would have bankrupted Ferguson. With the clarifications on salaries and the flexibility on timing, the City Manager and Budget Director now project the first year costs to be about $1.2 million and subsequent years $500,000 to $600,000. We can afford both of these, assuming we pass the upcoming tax increase.
Most of the money we will spend stays in Ferguson. Yes, there will be the cost of the outside monitor, but most of the money being spent to implement the Consent Decree will stay here in Ferguson, in the form of more police and slightly higher police salaries. The money we spend will make our City better.
Ferguson does NOT admit guilt in the Consent Decree. This is a key point. The City has told the DOJ from the start that it disagreed with the distorted charges of racism in the report and would not in any way admit to them in a Consent Decree. After much back and forth, the DOJ finally backed off. The City admits no guilt by signing the Consent Decree and does not expose itself to any legal liability for past actions.
Signing the Consent Decree shifts oversight to a local Federal Judge. In the negotiating process, the DOJ acts as not just the prosecutor but also the judge - because they could financially bury the city, they had a lot of leverage to dictate the terms. Now that we actually have a decree, a Federal Judge based here in St. Louis will oversee the case. If something proves to be financially unviable for the City it is a Federal Judge living in Missouri that will make the determination, NOT someone from the Civil Rights division of the Department of Justice.
A vague letter of clarification is better for Ferguson. We know many residents that read the letter from the DOJ were concerned about it’s vagueness (and bothered by its petulance). However from a legal standpoint, the vagueness of the letter gives the City much greater flexibility. Any disputes over implementation and costs that can’t be negotiated will eventually be decided in court. If the letter had been specific, then the City would be able to use the letter to challenge only that specific cost. Because the letter is vague, and because the DOJ called out that they thought Ferguson’s cost estimates were inflated, Ferguson has an opening to go back to the judge on any cost that proves to be financially unrealistic. The letter of clarification will be an important lever that the City can use to stay within its budget.
We still don’t trust the DOJ. We speak for many when we say that it seemed like the DOJ was often purposely inciting anger and protest while ignoring the real Ferguson and the progress we are making. But the clarification letter, for all of its petulance and digs, did in many ways go beyond what the Council was asking for to offer assurances. We will continue to be skeptical of the DOJ’s motives as we move forward, but the letter was a good step. And most importantly, if there are disputes it will be a judge deciding, not the DOJ.
We do trust our Mayor. The Mayor has made a compelling case for signing the Consent Decree and the City Manager has confirmed this case with new cost estimates. The Mayor and Council members have a fiduciary responsibility to the city of Ferguson, meaning he/she has to do what is in the best financial interest of the city going forward. Had they signed the original decree as it was presented they would not have been fulfilling their fiduciary responsibility. They now believe signing the consent decree is financially realistic, and we trust their assessment.
We will continue to fight to clear Ferguson’s name. The members of Ferguson Truth and many other residents believe that Ferguson has been treated unfairly by the DOJ. The process will be different, but we can assure you that Ferguson Truth will continue to fight for transparency from the DOJ. We will continue to do everything we can to force the DOJ to release the background information of the report and to highlight the degree to which the DOJ distorted or selectively presented information to support a political narrative. We will continue to fight for Truth in Ferguson!
Please don’t abandon Ferguson. There is a part of the social justice movement that actively wants Ferguson destroyed as a trophy. We have to admit, it has been tempting at times to just put our homes on the market and move away from the madness and irrational anger. But we love our neighbors and we love our beautiful city. With the Consent Decree, the madness will start to recede and we can get on with the task of making Ferguson an even better city that will be an example of diversity and strength for the United States. We hope you will take a deep breath and stay as well.
Signing is the best option for the City. In some ways we view the acceptance of this decree as a bitter pill, but it is the best option that Ferguson has of surviving and again thriving. We hope you will join us in supporting the Mayor and Council’s decision to sign the clarified Consent Decree.
Last week we met with representatives from the Department of Justice. Without making a firm commitment, the DOJ reps suggested that the DOJ might be open to a side letter which clarified some of the timing and economic points in the Consent Decree. Our City Council is also open to the idea of a letter of clarification.
WE NEED TO MAKE SURE THE SIDE LETTER COVERS THE FINANCIAL POINTS RAISED BY OUR CITY MANAGER.
HERE is a link to a proposed side letter that we feel addresses these concerns.
PLEASE LET YOUR COUNCIL MEMBER KNOW THAT THEY MUST STAND FIRM AND NOT PASS THE CONSENT DECREE WITHOUT A SIDE LETTER THAT ADDRESSES THESE ISSUES.
Undoubtedly you have heard about some of the madness, or even been to the Community Policing Meeting or last night’s City Council meeting. Yes, the Crazies are back in force, with new slogans, bigger and better banners and a fresh dose of irrational anger. And we know that a lot of residents are growing increasingly frustrated, and some even reaching a breaking point. IT IS IMPORTANT THAT WE STAND FIRM!! We cannot let the Crazies force the nice citizens of Ferguson to leave.
IT’S WHAT THE CRAZIES WANT: Their avowed goal is to force Ferguson off the map, so they can claim some kind of victory in their lives. They are purposely using intimidation as a tactic to frighten residents and make them think about moving. If we let them do it, if we all decide to move, they will have won. Ferguson will be just a shell of itself in another five years. St. Louis would have lost one of its nicer, more diverse communities and we would have lost our very nice town. And yes, the causes of diversity and social justice will have suffered setbacks. DON’T LET THEM WIN – DON’T LET THEM DRIVE YOU OUT.
THE CRAZIES VIEW THEMSELVES AS PART OF THE DOJ NEGOTIATING TEAM: The Crazies very much want us to sign the proposed DOJ Consent Decree as is, because it will bankrupt us and force us off the map. Part of their strategy is to continue to loudly protest and hopefully cause a confrontation – they WANT videos of police hauling them out of City Council meetings, it will put additional public pressure on Ferguson. So, unfortunately, we will have the Crazies with us for a while, BUT NOT ALL THAT LONG.
FERGUSON AND THE DOJ WILL REACH A SETTLEMENT: Once all of the posturing is done, the DOJ and Ferguson aren’t that far from an agreement – Ferguson has agreed to, wants to and is doing most of the reforms in the Consent Decree. The “poison pill” (which could cause the city to dissolve) gets talked about a lot, but it’s a clarification of language. The only really big issue is the level of police raises, and it’s hard to believe the DOJ would take this all the way to trial over this one issue. And we are getting ready to kick off the next phase of Ferguson Truth – “Ask everything you wanted to know about the DOJ report on Ferguson.” More to come on the project, do check back...
FEEL FREE TO AVOID THE CRAZIES: Some of us have been trying to be at all the meetings to show support, but if you have a low tolerance for foolishness, stay away. Ferguson is going to make it through these next few months, and there is no point subjecting yourselves to the pain when it really won’t do anything to change the situation. If you don’t feel like it, you have a free pass to skip the next few meetings. The council knows whom it represents.
OR PRETEND YOU ARE AT THE JERRY SPRINGER SHOW: If you do go, just pretend you are at the Jerry Springer show. Gawk at the spectacle, chuckle at the clowns. Debate with your wife the most outrageous comments, or your favorite chant. Remember, some people pay for entertainment like this – we get it free. Sure, if you watch Jerry Springer or Professional Wrestling, it might seem like Old Hat. But for a lot of us, this is as up close and personal as we have ever gotten to the Vaudeville stage.
HELP PASS THE TAX INCREASE: This, more than anything else, is how to stick it to the Crazies – make sure our city has the money it needs to keep providing the quality of life we enjoy.
STAND FIRM: We aren’t going anywhere, and we hope you aren’t either. We love our diverse neighbors, our beautiful houses (reasonably priced), our nice little entertainment district. We even love being part of history. Yes, it’s going to be Crazy for a while longer, but soon, very soon, the madness will pass and we will still have our lovely City. Don’t let them take our City from us.
Help Ferguson Get the Truth Out
Beginning with Eric Holder announcing the Department of Justice’s “searing” report, the DOJ has selectively collected and presented information to paint Ferguson as racist and abusive. Ferguson Truth was formed to push for transparency and truth from the Department of Justice, to counteract this distorted narrative that the DOJ created.