FERGUSON, Mo. (AP) – The Ferguson City Council could soon accept a U.S. Justice Department plan to overhaul its embattled police force and municipal court system after a brief attempt to revise the deal it had already spent months negotiating.
Elected leaders in the St. Louis suburb where the fatal police shooting of Michael Brown led to a federal probe and helped spark the national Black Lives Matter movement meet Tuesday night to consider approval of the DOJ consent decree.
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The agency and Ferguson reached a tentative agreement in late January, but the council rejected the plan in February over cost concerns, prompting the Justice Department to sue the next day.
City leaders have since said they expect to approve the consent agreement after being assured that the city won’t be required to provide its police officers with pay raises, a provision they feared could bankrupt Ferguson. They tentatively approved the decree at a meeting one week ago, with a final vote scheduled for Tuesday.
A city analysis indicated implementation costs could approach $4 million in the first year alone. That led the Ferguson council to approve an amended agreement that included seven provisions aimed mostly at keeping costs in check.
Vanita Gupta, the head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, has subsequently suggested Ferguson could receive both technical assistance and grant money for its efforts. Gupta also said in a letter to the mayor and council that if the council adopted the agreement, the lawsuit would be dropped.
The 131-page consent decree is intended to correct problems identified in a scathing Justice Department report last year that found sweeping patterns of racial bias throughout the city’s criminal justice system.
The agreement calls for the hiring of a monitor to ensure Ferguson follows the requirements. New diversity training will be instituted for police, software will be purchased and staff hired to analyze records on arrests, use of force and other police matters. And within 180 days, all patrol officers, supervisors and jail workers will be outfitted with body cameras.
The city had been under federal scrutiny since the August 2014 shooting of Brown, who was black and unarmed, by white police officer Darren Wilson, who was cleared of wrongdoing by the Justice Department in the shooting and whom a St. Louis County grand jury declined to indict.