The Justice Department has released its investigation of the Ferguson Police Department, concluding that city law enforcement practices are discriminatory and unconstitutional and calling for sweeping changes. Here are some of the highlights of the report:
THE BASIC FINDING: The police and municipal courts in Ferguson have been treating blacks unfairly, violating the law and the U.S. Constitution. Police use force too often.
HOW THE INVESTIGATION WAS DONE: Representatives of the Justice Department interviewed city and court officials, police officers and citizens. Police records were reviewed, along with court and police data. Justice Department representatives rode along with police officers and observed court sessions.
AMONG THE BLACK MARKS AGAINST POLICE:
— From 2012 to 2014, 93 percent of all arrests and 85 percent of all vehicle stops involved black people, who constitute two-thirds of the population.
— Blacks were more than twice as likely as whites to be searched during vehicle stops, yet contraband was found 26 percent less often on them than on white drivers.
— From 2011 to 2013, blacks were charged with 95 percent of cases involving “manner of walking in roadway” and with 94 percent of “failure to comply.”
— Almost 90 percent of documented force used by officers was used against blacks.
— Police make many arrests for talking back to officers, recording police activities and engaging in lawful protest.
AMONG THE BLACK MARKS AGAINST THE CITY COURTS:
— Blacks are 68 percent less likely than others to win dismissal of their cases.
— Blacks represent 92 percent of cases where an arrest warrant was issued in 2013.
— The court often imposes large bail amounts that do not seem justified by public-safety concerns.
— City officials often fix tickets for themselves and their friends.
STRIKING EXAMPLES OF BAD POLICING:
— As a result of a single illegal parking violation in 2007, a black woman spent six days in jail, paid $550 in fines and still owed $541 as of December.
— In 2013, police on their way to arrest someone at an apartment building instead arrested without justification a black man parked outside, handcuffed him and kept him in a patrol car while they ran his record. Faced with a complaint later, a police sergeant described the detention as “minimal” and said the car was air conditioned.
— In 2012, an officer stopped to question a 32-year-old black man sitting in his car with windows that may have been more deeply tinted than allowed under the city code. The officer went on without cause to call the man a pedophile, order him out of his car for a pat-down and ask to search the car. When the man refused, the officer reportedly pointed a gun at his head and arrested him.
— Police broke up a lawful protest on the six-month anniversary of Michael Brown’s death by shouting, “Everybody here’s going to jail.” Two people were arrested simply for recording the police action. Four others were arrested. It appears police were upset about insults written in chalk on the department parking lot and on a police vehicle.
— “Partly as a consequence of City and FPD (Ferguson Police Department) priorities, many officers appear to see some residents, especially those who live in Ferguson’s predominantly African-American neighborhoods, less as constituents to be protected than as potential offenders and sources of revenue.”
— “Minor offenses can generate crippling debts, result in jail time because of an inability to pay and result in the loss of a driver’s license, employment or housing.”
— “Ferguson’s approach to law enforcement both reflects and reinforces racial bias, including stereotyping.”
— “FDP officers frequently detain people without reasonable suspicion and arrest people without probable cause.”
— “City, police and court officials for years have worked in concert to maximize revenue at every stage of the enforcement process.”
— “Court staff are keenly aware that the City considers revenue generation to be the municipal court’s primary purpose.”
— “Many officers are quick to escalate encounters with subjects they perceive to be disobeying their orders or resisting arrest.”
— “FDP officers’ use of canines to bite people is frequently unreasonable.”
— “Officers often use force in response to behavior that may be annoying or distasteful but does not pose a threat.”
QUOTES FROM CITY OFFICIALS SHOWING RACIAL BIAS:
— A November 2008 email said President Obama would not be president for long because “what black man holds a steady job for four years?”
— A May 2011 email said: “An African-American woman in New Orleans was admitted into the hospital for a pregnancy termination. Two weeks later she received a check for $5,000. She phoned the hospital to ask who it was from. The hospital said, ‘Crimestoppers.'”
WHAT CHANGES ARE RECOMMENDED:
— Shift away from police practices aimed at raising revenue.
— Focus on public safety, rather than stopping people simply because police have authority to do so. End ticketing and arrest quotas.
— Move officers toward de-escalating confrontations.
— The police department should improve race and gender diversity in recruiting, hiring and promotion practices.
— Municipal code violations should result in jail in only the rarest circumstances. Arrest warrants should not be used to collect court fees.
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