Ferguson continues to move forward to heal and insure Constitutional Policing. The following INITIATIVES AND ACCOMPLISHMENTS were presented by Ferguson City Manager De'Carlon Seewood at our recent Neighborhood Policing steering committee meeting.
As you probably know by now, the Ferguson City Council did a masterful job of navigating the different pressures and concerns to arrive at a thoughtful, practical response to the Department of Justice. There is already a firestorm of commentary from the more virulent protesters, which is a shame. But please do not lose sight of everything the Council did:
Yes, the Council did push back on some key points:
Deadlines: The DOJ wanted Ferguson to commit to dozens of 60 and 90 day deadlines, which the City had no chance of meeting (we still don’t even have a Police Chief). Asking the DOJ to extend those deadlines, many to six months, will give us a chance of actually meeting the agreement we sign. This shouldn’t be objectionable to anyone that cares about a better Ferguson – we rightfully want to sign a deal that we can live up to.
Police Raises: To our knowledge the DOJ has never inserted language in any other consent decree that mandates that police salaries must be competitive with the highest paying municipalities in the area. This one clause adds hundreds of thousands of dollars of costs to the consent decree. While we do support raising police salaries in Ferguson, asking the DOJ to remove this clause won’t impact our move to community policing and also greatly reduces the cost of compliance.
The Poison Pill: This demand is something that has never been included in any other consent decree with any other city, but which has extreme ramifications for Ferguson. To summarize, if the City can’t raise the money needed to pay for the settlement and has to shut down our police department, Ferguson would have to dissolve itself before the County Police would take over. Ferguson had community policing in place before 2011, and is already moving back to this approach. However the DOJ wants to try an experiment – hiring more officers, and having the officers spend about 20% of their time doing community relations work. These are worthy goals, but also require a significant increase in spending on police. Ferguson is happy to try the experiment, but if the residents decide they can’t continue to fund this increased cost we need to be able to close our police department and contract with St. Louis County WITHOUT being forced to first dissolve the City. The DOJ has stated over and over again that it was not their intent to force Ferguson – thankfully, our council called them on the poison pill.
Again, the Ferguson City Council did a wonderful job of approving the consent decree with a few common sense changes, changes the DOJ should have no problems with if the goal really is a better Ferguson. We are asking everyone to send their thanks to the City Council, to let them know we appreciate the hard work they put into moving our city forward. Their email addresses and the city phone number are below.
City of Ferguson: (314) 521-7721
Ella Jones firstname.lastname@example.org,
Mark Byrne email@example.com,
Dwayne James firstname.lastname@example.org,
Wesley Bell email@example.com,
Keith Kallstrom firstname.lastname@example.org
Mayor James Knowles email@example.com
Dear Mayor Knowles and Council
Attached is a very detailed analysis (Download File) by area pastor Daryl Meese, comparing the Ferguson Consent Decree to Cleveland and several other Consent Decrees. The report confirms what we all are realizing - Ferguson is being asked to do far, far more than any other city, and as importantly, in a much shorter time frame. Given the extensive scope of the agreement, the very high projections based on our understanding of the terms, and the inexperience of both Ferguson and the DOJ on something this broad, we ask that the City Council respectfully declines to pass this resolution on second reading, and does not at this time agree to enter into this consent decree.
Surely the DOI was surprised by the initial cost calculation as well, and is open to re-visiting and clarifying language. This situation is a first for Ferguson, but it is also a first for the DOJ - they have never tried to negotiate anything this extensive, and they are learning as they are going. Now that we have had a chance to see the proposal, we are able to do the side by side analysis - information that wasn't available to the DOJ or Ferguson. Now that the agreement has been priced out, surely the DOJ is open to continuing the conversation, to clarify language and tighten terms, and to talk through realistic timelines.
Not voting Yes doesn't mean we aren't committed to moving forward as a City. It's simply a recognition that we are learning as we go along, that we as a City and a nation have to get this right - we have to make sure Ferguson IS able to become an example for the rest of our Country. Again, we ask you to not pass the resolution, and instead allow us to continue our conversations as a City and with the Department of Justice. We have a roadmap now - give us a chance for true input on how to make it even better,
Ferguson City Council MUST vote NO on decree!
It’s hard to describe how disheartening the proposed DOJ consent decree is for the people of Ferguson. The Department of Justice has been lying. Lying to the United States, lying to the City of Ferguson, even lying to the protest community of Ferguson.
Yes, “lying” is a very strong word. But after a year of the DOJ publicly stating it wasn’t trying to destroy Ferguson, it is demanding the City sign a consent decree that can only result in the City eventually having to disincorporate, to dissolve itself.
A small but vocal part of the social justice movement has wanted Ferguson to essentially be wiped off the map, as a warning to the rest of the United States and as a trophy for the movement. The DOJ has stated over and over again that this wasn’t their goal. Representatives from the DOJ visited our city numerous times to tell residents that the DOJ wanted Ferguson to live, wanted its police force to continue. We lost track of the warm, reassuring words offered by the DOJ to let us know that everything would work out.
Most of these conversations eventually got around to costs. What would happen if the cost of making the DOJ’s proposed changes were more than the City could afford? Would it force us to dissolve our police force? Their answer always began with an assurance that the DOJ knows Ferguson is a small town and that it wasn’t out to bankrupt anyone. Then they would add “But ultimately, it’s up to the people of Ferguson to decide what kind of police force they want to have, and if the people of Ferguson decide they are better off dissolving their police force, that’s your right”.
This, really, has been the background message from the DOJ – if correcting our police department was too expensive, the City could dissolve the department and contract with St. Louis County for policing. The DOJ particularly pushed this with the Ferguson protest community, suggesting that the protesters’ could end the policing while keeping the city.
Now the DOJ’s proposed settlement has been released, and none of the reassurances were true. The settlement will cost the City more than $1.3 million in the first year alone, including $350,000 a year in monitoring costs. It will require hiring more police officers and mandate that all officers spend a significant amount of time in non-policing community activities. It will require expensive, yearly, “retraining” of every police officer, for years to come. Beyond the cost, it will substantially change policing in Ferguson, making it harder for police to do their jobs and even harder for officers to ensure their own safety.
And worst of all, it says that if the City of Ferguson were to contract with St. Louis County Police, the County Police would have to abide by all of the terms of the agreement. The County would have to agree that all officers potentially patrolling Ferguson would receive the constant retraining and spend time on non-policing duties while being closely monitored. Officers would be required to give up whole categories of policing (and be trained to police in a different way) and put themselves and our community at increased risk. The County Police Department would have to agree to the very terms that forced the Ferguson Police Department out of existence.
It’s not going to happen. St. Louis County, without the gun of a DOJ lawsuit to its head, will never agree to the egregious terms and costs that the DOJ is trying to force on Ferguson - it won’t sign on for the successor liability and won’t force the costs onto the rest of the County. Why would it.
There is only one way for the County to take over policing without being bound by the agreement Ferguson signed. The City of Ferguson will have to vote to dissolve itself. Once Ferguson was no longer a legal entity we go back to being unincorporated St. Louis County and the County Police would be able to step in without being bound by the DOJ agreement.
Again, it’s hard to describe how dispiriting this is to the residents of Ferguson. After all the reassurances, the Department of Justice is demanding the City sign its own death certificate. Think we are wrong? Ask the DOJ if there is any other way for St. Louis County to take over the policing without having liability for the agreement. It’s a sad day in Ferguson, and should be a sad day everywhere in the United States. The DOJ seems to have decided that our friendly little diverse city needs to be sacrificed in the name of social justice.
A letter to Ferguson from attorney Chuck James
Ladies and Gentlemen:
You may know that I no longer live in Ferguson, but I own or have an ownership interest in two parcels of real estate and have a strong personal interest in the City where I grew up and lived for over 50 years.
I have been following the news reports relating to the proposed Settlement Agreement with the Department of Justice with much interest. I have read the Agreement and can only imagine the expense that will be involved in complying with its terms.
There are many items in the Agreement that the City can, should and is doing to “reform” the Police Department and Municipal Court. At the same time, there are many provisions in the proposed settlement that are over the top, and unnecessary in my opinion, to transform our Police Department and Municipal Court into one that we can all be proud of and that protects the legitimate interests of the citizenry against civil rights abuses.
Having said that, I realize that you have been negotiating with the DOJ for many months now and have reached the point where it is “take it or leave it”. And the DOJ seems indifferent to the costs involved and whether the City can afford them. I wonder if they have considered the fact that the costs involved will be born by the very citizenry they claim to be protecting? The City’s revenue is, after all, derived for the most part from the citizens and businesses located within its boundaries.
Bankrupting the City for the purpose of “protecting its citizens” makes no sense to me at all —regardless of the terms of any Agreement, Settlement or Judgment. How does that achieve justice for anyone?? And isn’t it justice that the government is looking for?? Isn’t that what the City is looking for??
In any event, let me cut to the chase.
I don’t seriously believe that a Federal Judge will impose a Judgment against the City that is as onerous and expensive as the Settlement Agreement that has been proposed. I would look at the proposed Settlement Agreement as the worst that could reasonably be imposed upon the City in Court. After all, in the end, the City could argue that the proposed Settlement Agreement was what the DOJ wanted.
I recommend that the City reject the proposed Agreement and fight for a better outcome in court. Remember, victory in litigation does not require that the Court find in favor of the City and against the DOJ on all counts. Victory for the City could be a settlement or judgment that does not have the effect of bankrupting the City … that includes all of the policies that are necessary to protect all citizens, while not putting the City’s police officers in any more danger than the are presently.
I have no doubt that litigation will be expensive. It could cost millions, depending upon the defense strategy. But I believe that supporters of the City would be willing to help cover the cost if an effective campaign were mounted.
I realize that the politics surrounding the decision you are faced with are complicated and passionate. I urge you to set politics aside and consider only the bottom line realities of the situation. If you approve and sign the Settlement Agreement, you are stuck with the financial consequences. No chance to renegotiate the deal.
If you reject the agreement, you will have much more time to consider the ramifications of what has been proposed and find out if the voters will approve the tax increases you have on the April ballot. You will also have time weigh the feasibility of raising money from private sources to help pay litigation expenses.
If after taking the time necessary to study all of the alternatives you determine that the proposed Settlement Agreement will work, you can always offer to accept it in the course of litigation, and the DOJ would likely accept it. No guarantees about that, but I doubt that the DOJ will insist on continuing the litigation to obtain a settlement that is significantly more onerous as the one on the table.
Do not be bullied by the DOJ. Stand your ground. Do not let the costs of this fall on the backs of the people you are supposed to be protecting. Push for something better.
Hope you are all doing well. I know how difficult this is for you.
Mr. Charles A. James
One of the most troubling parts of the Department of Justice’s report on Ferguson was the section on the use of police canines. When we talked with the Ferguson Police Department, they were baffled by what the DOJ could have seen as unconstitutional. They said the FPD canines were not deployed during the protests and hardly even get used in apprehension; they pointed out that in the small handful of cases where canines did apprehend suspects virtually every suspect was charged with a felony.
In response, we filed a freedom of information act request with the Department of Justice, for information on the police canine cases they cited. We recently received their response: they will not provide us anything until the law enforcement proceeding is complete. (Download HERE) They suggested we were asking for their work papers and possible trial strategy. We will appeal and point out that we were not asking for work papers or strategy, just the police canine cases noted in the report.
As residents of Ferguson, we have found the Department of Justice to be extremely frustrating to deal with. After releasing a scathing, but very general report on their accusations, the DOJ then refused to release any of the backup information on the report.
Why? Wouldn’t releasing the terrible details that were hinted at in the report put additional pressure on Ferguson to settle? Wouldn’t public displeasure help force Ferguson to change its ways? Why won’t the DOJ provide backup to its accusations? What does the DOJ have to hide?
Unfortunately, it seems more and more likely that what they are hiding is that they don’t have a case. That in response to a very heated political situation they pieced together a narrative using bits and pieces of information out of context and manipulated statistical data to build a narrative of Ferguson as a bad place. But now the DOJ can’t let anyone know just how weak its case it, and so it is trying to keep everything hidden while it tries to force the city of Ferguson into a settlement.
Again, the frustration of dealing with the DOJ. Ferguson is being pressured into signing a settlement, without ever getting to see what the DOJ thinks it actually did wrong. How can this be justice?
Brian Fletcher will be greatly missed in Ferguson - he was a wonderful man who cared very deeply about his city. Ferguson Truth has formally requested that the City Council appoint someone to fill his seat that has the same positive love of Ferguson. A copy of the letter may be downloaded HERE and is displayed below.
Tom Claffy, a longtime Ferguson resident and member of Ferguson Truth, recently submitted a Freedom of Information request to the City of Ferguson. Ferguson’s response seems to suggest, yet again, that the Department of Justice didn’t actually conduct a thorough analysis of the actions of the Ferguson Police Department. This, more than anything else, is why we want the City of Ferguson to release the proposed DOJ settlement before the City Council votes to accept it – we want to be sure that the proposed settlement improves Ferguson and doesn’t unjustly penalize Ferguson to satisfy the DOJ’s political needs.
One of the most troubling aspects of the original DOJ report was the description of the use police dogs, which the DOJ suggested was “evidence of discriminatory policing”. Tom submitted requests to the Ferguson Police Department and the DOJ for information on the cases cited in the DOJ report. The DOJ still hasn’t responded, but below is part of the City of Ferguson’s response (Click HERE for the full letter):
"Please note that the representatives of the Special Litigation Section of the Civil Rights Division of the DOJ did not provide us with the report numbers, names or other identifying information that those representatives used in their analysis regarding the use of canines by the Ferguson Police Department."
So basically, the DOJ didn’t tell the City which cases it referenced, or ask the Ferguson Police Department for any additional information on the files it reviewed. It seems as if the DOJ didn’t ask to talk to the officers involved, or the Supervisors on duty at the time. The DOJ notes that it talked to one child that had been bitten several years ago, but not much more. The DOJ notes “In every canine bite incident for which racial information is available, the person bitten was African American.” (emphasis added). How is it possible that racial information was not available? Did the DOJ not do even the small bit of research necessary to identify the race of the person being bitten? Even the language about the severity of the bites is unclear. In one example from four years ago, the DOJ specifically notes that the bite resulted in puncture wounds. In another example, the DOJ report seems to suggest that the dog dragged a teen out of a closet by the teen’s pants leg. According to the DOJ report, there were fourteen examples over a four and a half year period – how hard would it have been to research each of these?
What it has felt like from the start is that the DOJ wasn’t really interested in doing an in depth analysis of sleepy little diverse Ferguson, one of the most integrated cities in the St. Louis region. Instead, it was addressing a political situation – the Darren Wilson report was sure to infuriate the social justice community, and so the report on general practices of the Ferguson Police Department would have to justify the explosion of anger – “Darren Wilson’s actions weren’t racist, but the police department is”.
But in reality, this isn’t true – the Ferguson Police Department isn’t racist – it’s not out hunting African Americans to fatten the city coffers. The DOJ report wove together a series of anecdotes and bits of information taken out of context to build its narrative, but every time we start digging down, their narrative falls apart – the DOJ has purposely distorted information or provided it without necessary context. The disproportionate ticketing of African Americans? The DOJ took information Ferguson publicly reports then changed how disparity was calculated to make Ferguson seem worse. The suggestion that Ferguson specifically targeted African Americans to double its traffic fines revenue? Almost all of the increase in traffic fines was related to the use of red light cameras.
The examples go on and on. The DOJ didn’t perform an analysis of the Ferguson Police Department, but instead prepared a simplistic, distorted report to satisfy a political audience. We have heard multiple times from many reliable sources that the Ferguson report was rewritten multiple times until it was “scathing” enough to meet the DOJ’s agenda. The residents of Ferguson want to make our city better. We support reforms of the municipal court system and increasing community policing, but we don’t want to be a “sacrifice” for the social justice community. This is why it is so important for the City of Ferguson to release the proposed settlement before signing. And why, maybe, the best answer is to not settle but instead to force the DOJ to present, in a court of law, what it actually found. No justice, no peace? No truth, no justice.
Petition Calling on the City of Ferguson to Publicly Release any Proposed DOJ Settlement Before Signing
Ferguson Truth has formally requested that the City release any proposed settlement with the Department of Justice PRIOR to City Council approval and signatures. We strongly believe that the process has been mishandled by the Department of Justice, and demand the same opportunity to comment upon and impact the proposed settlement that was afforded Ferguson Collaborative by the DOJ.
Ferguson Truth has formally requested that the City release any proposed settlement with the Department of Justice PRIOR to City Council approval and signatures. We strongly believe that the process has been mishandled by the Department of Justice, and demand the same opportunity to comment upon and impact the proposed settlement that was afforded Ferguson Collaborative by the DOJ.” Click HERE for a copy of the letter.
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.