WASHINGTON – The city of Ferguson, Missouri, released details on Wednesday of a tentative deal with the U.S. Justice Department to reform its police department and resolve a federal probe following the 2014 fatal shooting of a black teenager that ignited national protests.
Under the terms of the proposed agreement, which were posted on the city’s website, the Ferguson police department would be required to give its officers bias-awareness training, implement a “robust” accountability system and ensure that police stop, search and arrest practices do not discriminate on the basis of race or other protected characteristics.
The settlement would require the city to change its municipal code, including sections that impose prison time for failure to pay certain fines and an ordinance used against individuals who do not comply with police orders.
Ferguson’s city council plans to vote on Feb. 9 on whether to accept the agreement and will accept public comments in writing and at public meetings before the vote.
The proposal “simply encapsulates the elements that any small- to medium-size police department can and should put in place to ensure that its officers conduct themselves in a manner that is constitutional and effective,” the head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, Vanita Gupta, wrote in a Tuesday letter to city council members.
Gupta also said in the letter that she hoped the city council would approve the agreement so that the department would not have to “resort to contested litigation,” which she said would divert resources and delay implementation of the police and court reform.
The Justice Department is also investigating the police departments of Baltimore and Chicago to determine whether they carried out similar systematic violations of citizens’ civil rights.
The shooting of 18-year-old, unarmed Michael Brown by white Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson exposed tension between the city government and the largely black community outside St. Louis that erupted into violent protests after a grand jury chose not to indict the officer.
It was one of a series of highly publicized killings of black men mostly by white police officers that set off a nationwide debate about the use of police force, especially against minorities.
The Justice Department issued a scathing report last year that documented discriminatory actions by Ferguson police and the municipal court system, particularly against African-Americans. The department also launched a probe into whether the city systematically violated citizens’ rights.