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Judge Rules Against Police Enforcing 'Five-Second Rule' In Ferguson

From a march in Ferguson on Aug. 15
Durrie Bouscaren I St. Louis Public Radio
St. Louis Public Radio

A federal judge in St. Louis has ruled that police in Ferguson cannot enforce what became known as the "five-second rule."  

The rule was a crowd-control strategy to respond to violence in Ferguson developed by the St. Louis County Police Department and the Missouri State Highway Patrol, along with the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department.  Officers had noticed that whenever marchers paused, crowds would spread into the streets, blocking vehicle and foot traffic.

A large group of standing protesters also gave violent agitators a chance to hide in the back of the crowd and throw rocks or shoot at police officers.

To address this perceived problem, law enforcement officers would not allow protesters to stop walking for any length of time.

The officers were given broad discretion as to when to enforce the rule and how big of a crowd had to gather before protesters could be asked to move. Unless they were also doing something illegal, protesters could not be threatened with arrest.

Monday's ruling from Judge Catherine Perry acknowledged that police do have the authority to break up unlawful gatherings and to place some restrictions on the location or time of protests. But they "cannot  enforce an ad-hoc rule … that  directed police officers, if they felt like it, to order peaceful, law-abiding citizens to keep moving rather than standing still."

The American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri had filed the suit, saying enforcement was so haphazard in its application of the rule as to be unconstitutional. The Missouri State Highway Patrol said in court last week that it was no longer enforcing the rule it helped develop, saying it had not been as effective as they had hoped. But several St. Louis County officers said they believed it was still the policy and would continue to enforce it if they were sent back out to the streets of Ferguson.

County police again took over patrols in Ferguson on Friday, at the request of the city.

Follow Rachel Lippmann on Twitter: @rlippmann

Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.