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Will Ferguson Close Its Police Dept.?

Change is hard, even if you need to change. Could the city of Ferguson give up its police department in light of allegations of Civil Rights violations from the Department of Justice, finding it simply to expensive to change?

One expert in neighboring St. Louis seems to think so:

Once Ferguson tallies the costs of either fighting the DOJ allegations or adopting reforms the department will require, it may decide the best choice would be to get rid of the police department and hire another agency to police the town.

“My guess is it’s going to be so expensive to the city of Ferguson, they’re going to have to make a survival decision,” Tim Fitch, the former head of the St. Louis County Police Department, said in a recent interview with The Huffington Post. “Financially, I don’t believe they’re going to be able to do one of two things: Either they’re going to fight it, and not be able to afford that, or to implement all of the changes that DOJ is going to require is going to be so expensive, they’re not going to be able to do it.”

I’m from North St. Louis County where Ferguson is located and the greater St. Louis metropolitan area is full of small towns with small police departments that are more revenue generator than law enforcement. What often gets lost in reporting on Ferguson is that the city is more poor than anything, not a den of violence. The police aren’t so much as battling gangbangers on a daily basis as they are shaking down already poor citizens to fill ticket quotas. Last year’s shooting death of Michael Brown at the hands of a police officer was the first homicide of the year.

If the Ferguson Police Department dissolved, turning over patrols to the County police or some other department, they wouldn’t be the first tiny town in St. Louis County to do this. And I’m not alone in thinking this wouldn’t be the worst idea considering how these local police are used to raise funds and not lower crime.

Fitch and some other county law enforcement officials have criticized some small police departments in the county for aggressive ticket-writing and law enforcement. Jon Belmar, the current St. Louis County police chief, called the ticketing practices of some departments “immoral.” St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Bob McCulloch has said there are police departments in the area that shouldn’t exist. St. Louis County may stand to benefit by taking over Ferguson policing if such a decision is reached.

But for the time being, it looks like Ferguson’s mayor isn’t entertaining the idea.

“I can tell you that the citizens I hear from by and large –- and this is even from citizens who’ve been involved in protests -– want nothing to do with St. Louis County Police,” Mayor James Knowles III recently told St. Louis Public Radio. “Many people, for whatever they feel is wrong with a local municipal police department, feel that they have the most influence over a local municipal police department.”

True, a community should have more control over their local police, but when Ferguson’s government is mostly white, 50 out of its 53 police officers are white and the residents are two-thirds African American, do the locals really have “local control?”