Results released today from a United States Department of Justice Civil Rights Division investigation into the Ferguson Police Department show deeply entrenched patterns of “racial disparities that adversely impact African Americans.” The investigation, initiated on September 4, 2014, found “discriminatory intent is part of the reason for these disparities.”
Last summer, the killing of 18-year-old African American Michael Brown in a St. Louis suburb by police officer Darren Wilson sparked a fury of protests across the nation, questioning excessive use of force used by police officers, specifically targeting the African American community, spurred Attorney General Eric Holder to launch the federal investigation.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) reviewed over 35,000 pages of data and conducted investigations on site in Ferguson, involving ride-alongs with officers and interviews with half of the Ferguson Police Department’s (FDP) sworn officers, along with the cooperation of high-ranking city officials. The slightly-over 100 page document outlines law enforcement practices that systematically target African Americans throughout the enforcement process in detail. According to the investigation, the driving force behind these policies has been a court system and police department that prioritize generating revenue above community safety.
Below is a list of the key findings from the DOJ investigation:
- “Officers appear to see some residents, especially those who live in Ferguson’s predominantly African American neighborhoods, less as constituents to be protected than as potential offenders and sources of revenue.”
- Ferguson’s municipal court “does not act as a neutral arbiter of the law.” Instead, the court uses its judicial authority to “compel the payment of fines and fees that advance the city’s financial interests.”
- “Ferguson’s approach to law enforcement both reflects and reinforces racial bias, including stereotyping.”
- “FDP routinely makes arrests without probable cause.”
- “FDP’s pattern of excessive force includes ECWs (Electronic Control Weapons) in a manner that is unconstitutional, abusive and unsafe.”
- “FDP’s use-of-force review system is particularly ineffectual.”
- FDP officers “frequently do not report the force they use at all” and “underreporting” is “widespread.”
- There is “overwhelming evidence of minor municipal code violations resulting in multiple arrests, jail time and payments that exceed the cost of the original ticket many times over.”
- “Ferguson, unlike other courts in the region, does not include any information about its operations on its website other than inaccurate instructions about how to make payment.”
Ferguson by the numbers:
- Population: Roughly 21,000 residents
- Black population: 67 percent
- White population: 29 percent
- Population living below federal poverty level: 25 percent
- Number of sworn officers in the police department: 54
- Number of African American sworn officers: 4
- 85 percent of people subject to a vehicle stop were African American.
- 93 percent of people arrested in Ferguson were African American.
- African Americans are more than twice as likely as white drivers to be searched during vehicle stops, but are found in possession of contraband 26 percent less often than white drivers.
- Nearly 90 percent of documented force used by FPD officers was used against African Americans.
- African Americans are 68 percent less likely than others to have their cases dismissed from court.
- 90 percent of people who received a citation in Ferguson were African American.
- 95 percent of all Manner of Walking in the Roadway charges were filed against African Americans.
- 94 percent of all Failure to Comply charges were filed against African Americans.
- 2013 African Americans accounted for 92 percent of cases in which an arrest warrant was issued.