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Ferguson update: Missed deadlines, but 'significant progress' made in consent decree compliance

Ferguson Police Department
File photo | Jason Rosenbaum | St. Louis Public Radio
Though the city has missed some deadlines, attorneys with the Department of Justice see real progress in its compliance with a consent decree.

In September 2016, the city of Ferguson seemed to be floundering in its efforts to comply with a federal civil rights consent decree.

"We are not where we had hoped to be," said Justice Department attorney Christy Lopez said at the time. "Certainly, some deadlines have passed." 

But at a hearing Tuesday in front of judge Catherine Perry, the city, the Justice Department and the team overseeing the city's compliance with the decree all finally seemed to be pulling in the same direction.

"There are deadlines at 180 days that the city may not meet," Civil Rights division attorney Jude Volek told Judge Perry. "Those deadlines are important benchmarks to have, but we believe the city is working in good faith to meet them. We all wish we were further along, but they are laying a solid groundwork."

Among the accomplishments Volek and independent monitor Clark Ervin noted:

  • Ferguson has hired former Berkley, Mo. police chief Frank McCall to serve as a compliance coordinator for the department. Previously, city manager De'Carlon Seawood and police chief Delrish Moss were doing that job along with their other duties.

Volek praised the city for making McCall's position a command-level one. "It sends a message, and makes it clear that this is a top priority. He is dedicated," Volek said.

  • An ordinance creating a civilian oversight board for the Ferguson Police Department will be introduced Dec. 13.
  • The parties have hammered out an agreement on policies that require police department employees to tell the truth (duty of candor) and report misconduct.
  • The monitoring team has finalized the language for a survey of community attitudes about the Ferguson Police Department that will start after the New Year. The team has also started reviewing the changes made to Ferguson's municipal courts and will review staffing levels at the police department.

That staffing review could be crucial. The department is down to 36 officers, from a recent peak of 54 in August 2014, and there are concerns that low manpower leaves no time for training or community policing. The review will see if some duties now handled by sworn officers can be turned over to civilian employees.
"It sounds like we're making progress," Judge Perry said. "The consent decree had some ambitious deadlines, but it sounds like things are moving. I'm pleased to see the city doing what it ought to do."

If Judge Perry had one criticism, it was the slow pace of developing neighborhood groups, especially in apartment complexes near where Michael Brown was shot more than two years ago. Perry said she understood that the city had to walk a fine line to make sure that the groups were truly community-based, but urged city attorney Apollo Carey to seek input from neighborhood groups in the city.

The next set of deadlines hits Dec. 15. The parties will give Judge Perry another update in March, though Ervin, the independent monitor, will be back in town before that. He has also launched a website where residents can get updates on the consent decree and provide feedback.

Follow Rachel on Twitter: @rlippmann

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