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Missed deadlines in Ferguson's federal consent decree frustrate activists

Ferguson Police Department
File photo | Jason Rosenbaum | St. Louis Public Radio
Both the federal government and the city of Ferguson acknowledge that deadlines in a 2016 federal consent decree are beginning to slip.

It's been nearly a year since the U.S. Department of Justice and the city of Ferguson signed a consent decree to reform the city's police department and municipal courts. And both sides acknowledged Wednesday that they aren't as far along as they should be.

The 133-page document outlined more than 300 steps the city must take to comply with the decree, which came in the wake of a federal investigation into the city after Michael Brown was shot and killed by a white officer in August 2014. U.S. District Judge Catherine Perry approved the decree in April 2016. Many of the deadlines have already passed.

For example, the decree called for a Civilian Review Board that will examine alleged police misconduct to be "established and operational" by Jan. 15. Though the City Council adopted the legislation in December, the board did not have its first meeting until this month and is not yet able to accept complaints from citizens. Attorneys on both sides, however, called its establishment a significant milestone.

Ferguson's attorney, Apollo Carey, detailed the challenges during Wednesday's progress hearing in front of Perry. Many of the changes to the municipal courts he highlighted were supposed to have been done in the first months of the decree, but said the city and the Justice Department had made a decision to let the deadlines slip.

"We believe that this cause of action is the right one," Carey said. "As opposed to being quick, we agreed to slow down and do it right. Rather than being judged by the letter of the deadline, we hope that we are judged on the quality of those policies We are trying to do it the right way."

The Justice Department's Jude Volek frequently used the phrase "meaningful progress," and said he was encouraged with the changes he saw in the city's municipal courts.

Perry did not ask about the missed deadlines or mention them in her remarks. But Ferguson activists who attended the hearing said that's where her attention needed to be.

Ferguson resident Angelique Kidd questions city council members as they announce amendments to the Department of Justice's proposed consent decree at meeting Tuesday night.
Credit File photo | Carolina Hidalgo I St. Louis Public Radio
Ferguson activist Angelique Kidd, shown here protesting at a 2016 City Council meeting, says Judge Catherine Perry needs to rule that the city is out of compliance with a federal consent decree for not meeting deadlines.

"It's a waste of taxpayer's money," librarian and activist Angelique Kidd said. "Who knows how much everyone that was in that room got paid to be in there for what, over an hour and a half to talk about timelines, and what we're going to be doing and 'Oh yay, everything's all happy and everyone's working together,' but yet we still haven't had any community engagement."

Kidd said the city needs to focus on meeting the deadlines, rather than getting everything right.

"A well-intentioned mistake is often better than doing nothing at all. When does it hit the people? When do we finally get to see something?" she asked.

The next update is set for June 22, when Perry will allow public comments.

Follow Rachel on Twitter: @rlippmann

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