Ferguson City Council Says it Plans Review Board
FERGUSON, Mo. (AP) — The Ferguson City Council, set to meet Tuesday for the first time since the fatal shooting of an unarmed black 18-year-old by a white police officer, said it plans to establish a review board to help guide the police department and make other changes aimed at improving community relations.
Those would include reducing the revenue from court fines that are used for general city operations in the St. Louis suburb and reforming court procedures, according to a statement released by public relations firm the Devin James Group.
Michael Brown’s fatal shooting Aug. 9 by Ferguson officer Darren Wilson sparked sometimes-violent protests that led to Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon summoning the state Highway Patrol and National Guard to keep order. It also exposed an undercurrent of racial unrest in Ferguson and other nearby suburbs in mostly black communities of north St. Louis County.
City leaders vowed after Brown’s death to boost minority recruiting and outreach efforts at City Hall and throughout the community.
“The overall goal of these changes is to improve trust within the community and increase transparency, particularly within Ferguson’s courts and police department,” Council Member Mark Byrne said in the statement. “We want to demonstrate to residents that we take their concerns extremely seriously.”
Ferguson, a city of 21,000, is about 70 percent black. Its 53-member police department has just three black officers. They mayor and five of the six City Council members are white.
Some in the city have said police disproportionately target black drivers during traffic stops. A 2013 report by the Missouri attorney general’s office found that Ferguson police stopped and arrested black drivers nearly twice as often as white motorists, but were also less likely to find contraband among the black drivers.
The City Council has started the process to establish a review board aimed at providing citizen oversight and guidance for police, and it will include people who are not involved in local government, according to the statement.
The U.S. Justice Department announced last week that it was launching a broad investigation into the Ferguson police department, looking for patterns of discrimination. The police department said it supported the investigation and was working to earn back “the trust of our residents and our neighbors.”
That inquiry is separate from a federal probe into Brown’s death, which a local grand jury is also investigating.
Police have said the shooting came after a scuffle that broke out after Wilson told Brown and a friend to move out of the street and onto a sidewalk. Police say Wilson was pushed into his squad car and physically assaulted. Some witnesses have reported seeing Brown’s arms in the air before the shooting in an act of surrender. An autopsy paid for by Brown’s family concluded that he was shot six times, twice in the head.
A Ferguson city council meeting that had been scheduled for late August was canceled shortly beforehand after city officials said they were unable to find a location that would accommodate the large crowd expected.