Justice Department Set to Investigate Ferguson Police Practices

By Julissa Catalan

As anticipated, the Department of Justice will indeed open a civil-rights investigation into police practices and procedures in Ferguson, Mo.—the St. Louis suburb where unarmed teen Michael Brown was fatally shot by a white police officer last month.

A preliminary investigation by DOJ officials found records and statistics that pointed to possible “unlawful policing.”

“In Ferguson, our investigation will assess the police department’s use of force, including deadly force,” U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said of the civil-rights investigation. “It will analyze stops, searches and arrests. And it will examine the treatment of individuals detained at Ferguson’s city jail, in addition to other potentially discriminatory policing techniques and tactics that are brought to light.”

Holder went on to call the investigation a part of his efforts to keep his promise “to stand with the people there long after the national headlines had faded.”

Holder wrote an op-ed piece titled “A Message to the People of Ferguson” on Aug. 20, which ran in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and on stltoday.com. This was his “pledge to the people of Ferguson.”

“Our investigation into this matter will be full, it will be fair, and it will be independent. And beyond the investigation itself, we will work with the police, civil-rights leaders, and members of the public to ensure that this tragedy can give rise to new understanding—and robust action—aimed at bridging persistent gaps between law-enforcement officials and the communities we serve. Long after the events of Aug. 9 have receded from the headlines, the Justice Department will continue to stand with this community.”

Not to be confused with the F.B.I.’s civil-rights investigation—which specifically is examining the shooting of Michael Brown—this investigation is looking into the Ferguson Police Department’s history of discrimination and misuse of force against Blacks.

The Ferguson Police Department has been studied for possible racial profiling in the past, and it was found that Blacks are more than twice as likely to be stopped as whites. It was also determined that 80 percent of the traffic stops and 93 percent of the arrests are of Blacks.

The police force is made up of 53 officers. Only three of them are Black, while the remaining 50 are white.

“We’ve been doing everything we can to become a professional police department and a professional city,” Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson said. “We have no intentional policies or procedures which discriminated or violated civil rights. But if we have anything there which may unintentionally do that, we need to know about it.”

Since Eric Holder was appointed attorney general, the Justice Department has opened more than 20 civil-rights inquiries into police departments across the country—more than twice the number opened in the five years before he took office.

The investigations can lead to agreements that give the Justice Department oversight of the police departments. The DOJ has said it is currently enforcing 13 such agreements, the largest number in its history.

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