Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Ferguson Police Reform: Will It Work?

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Ferguson Police Reform: Will It Work?

Article excerpt

The City of Ferguson, Mo., where the 2014 fatal police shooting of an unarmed black teenager sparked riots and a national scrutiny of policing practices, has agreed to implement reforms set forth by the US Department of Justice (DOJ).

The agreement, published on Ferguson City's website, comes in the wake of a DOJ investigation into Ferguson's criminal justice system, published in March 2015, which found that "Ferguson law enforcement efforts are focused on generating revenue" and "violate the law and undermine community trust, especially among African Americans."

The proposed DOJ remedies for Ferguson include changes to the conduct of searches, arrests, and general police interactions with citizens. There will be an overhaul of training and a drive to recruit more minorities, as well as an increase in the use of body cameras worn by police officers.

This is the latest deal in a long line of agreements between the DOJ and police departments across the nation. How long federal oversight lasts - and how effective it is - varies from city to city.

For example, a 2003 investigation into the Detroit Police Department resulted in 11 years of reform efforts leading to an eventual "successful resolution" in August 2014.

The Cleveland police department reached a similar DOJ consent decree agreement in 2015, following what was described as "a pattern of excessive use of force and civil rights violations."

That particular agreement has been in place less than a year, and has a total of five years to run, as Daniel Ball of the Cleveland Mayor's Office says in an e-mail interview with The Christian Science Monitor.

"It may be premature for us to attempt to gauge success at this time. Though I can tell you that the agreement has been met as a welcome step in the right direction towards improving police and community relations," Ball writes.

But, as mandated by the DOJ agreement, a Community Police Commission has already been set up, representing diverse Cleveland communities and is tasked to "develop policy recommendations, build better community-police relations, and achieve comprehensive, systemic reform" of the Cleveland police department.

In Philadelphia, the police chief himself requested a DOJ investigation after a spike in police shootings in 2013.

"It's a good report with a lot of solid recommendations," said Commissioner Charles Ramsey of the findings released in March 2015. "These changes don't happen overnight, but we're going to push as hard as we can and make substantial changes over the next few months."

Yet, as all of these reforms are implemented, and their results awaited, it may be worth noting that they are only one part of the picture.

"Protesters across the country have been shouting for 'police reform.' But do they really know what truly reforming American law enforcement would entail -- what it would cost? …

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