‘Racial bias’ in Ferguson police


Published: Wednesday 4th March 2015 by The News Editor

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Sweeping patterns of racial bias have been discovered within the police department in Ferguson, Missouri, a US justice department investigation has found.

Officers were said to have routinely discriminated against black people by using excessive force, issuing petty citations and making baseless traffic stops, according to law enforcement officials familiar with the report.

The report, which could be released later today, marks the culmination of an investigation into a police department which commanded national attention after one of its officers shot and killed an unarmed black man, 18-year-old Michael Brown, last summer.

The report chronicles discriminatory practices across the city’s criminal justice system, detailing problems from initial encounters with patrol officers to treatment in the municipal court and jail.

The full report could serve as a roadmap for significant changes by the department, if city officials accept its findings.

The US justice department maintains the right to sue police departments that resist making changes.

The investigation found that black motorists from 2012 to 2014 were more than twice as likely to be stopped and searched as whites, even though they were less likely to be found carrying contraband, according to a summary of the findings.

The review also found that black people were 68% less likely than others to have their cases dismissed by a municipal court judge.

From April to September of last year, 95% of people kept at the city jail for more than two days were black, it found. Of the cases in which the police department documented the use of force, 88% involved black people.

Overall, African Americans make up 67% of Ferguson’s population.

The city of Ferguson released a statement acknowledging that Justice Department officials supplied a copy of the report to the mayor, city manager, police chief and city attorney during a private meeting Tuesday in St Louis.

The statement offered no details about the report, which the city said it was reviewing and would discuss Wednesday after the US justice department makes it public.

Investigators began the civil rights probe following the killing of Brown, which set off weeks of protests. A separate report to be issued soon is expected to clear the officer, Darren Wilson, of federal civil rights charges.

The report provides direct evidence of racial bias among police officers and court workers, and details a criminal justice system that through the issuing of petty citations for infractions such as walking in the middle of the street, prioritises generating revenue from fines over public safety.

The practice hits poor people especially hard, sometimes leading to jail time when they cannot pay, the report says, and has contributed to a cynicism about the police on the part of citizens.

Among the report’s findings was a racially tinged 2008 message in a municipal email account stating that US president Barack Obama would not be president for very long because “what black man holds a steady job for four years?”

The department has conducted roughly 20 broad civil rights investigations of police departments during the six-year tenure of attorney general Eric Holder, including Cleveland, Newark, New Jersey and Albuquerque.

Most such investigations end with police departments agreeing to change their practices.

Several messages seeking comment from Ferguson police chief Tom Jackson and mayor James Knowles III were not returned. A secretary for Mr Jackson said he is not doing media interviews.

Published: Wednesday 4th March 2015 by The News Editor

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