DOJ Report Concludes Ferguson Policing Is Unconstitutional, Racist and Profit-Driven

In September 2014, the United States Department of Justice opened an investigation into the killing of Michael Brown, as well as a larger one into the Ferguson Police Department. While the protests spread across the nation, the DOJ was conducting interviews with police, city officials and residents. They reviewed thousands of pages of police reports and court records, as well as city documents. Investigators also analyzed police data, and observed court proceedings and officers while on duty.

On Wednesday, the DOJ issued their final findings in a 105-page report. In short, they found that the Ferguson Police Department was poorly trained and racially-biased. They also found their policing unconstitutional and profit driven.

Ferguson protestors have said since the moment of Michael Brown’s killing that this was not just about his death. It was about the years of police harassment and violence that has disproportionately affected the black residents of the city. With a 25 percent poverty rate, the poorest residents were the hardest hit with numerous citations and subsequent fines and court fees. Unable to get help from city officials or the courts, they took to the streets to express their frustration with tears, chants and coordinated protests.

As Eric Holder said on Wednesday, “Some of those protestors were right.”

The investigation found that Ferguson policing was intentionally discriminatory. They discovered policing practices that both “reflect and exacerbate existing racial bias, including racial stereotypes.” From 2012-2014 African Americans made up 85 percent of vehicle stops, 90 percent of citations, and 93 percent of arrests made by FPD officers. It is statistically impossible for it not to have been deliberate with 67 percent of the residents being African American. Stops and searches of white residents were more likely to find contraband than with searches involving black citizens. This showed that officers used race as a decision when determining who to stop.

The racial profiling continued when issuing citations. From 2012-2014, four or more citations were issued at once to African-Americans on 73 occasions. For non-blacks, four or more were issued only twice in two years. It cannot be explained, as Ferguson police and city officials claim, that there is a difference in the behavior of the races. For example, a common citation is “Manner of Walking in Roadway” in which a person is cited for, well, walking. Ninety-five percent of these citations were issued to African-Americans. Further evidence of the racist attitudes could be found in emails shared between police and city officials, which were filled with racial stereotypes and insults to President Obama.

Police interactions repeatedly violated residents’ First and Fourth Amendment rights. Failure to comply citations would often result from a person exercising these rights. The DOJ found several instances where not only were the resulting searches in violation of the Fourth Amendment, the stopping and interrogating without cause was unconstitutional. If the person refused to identify themselves or answer questions, they would be arrested for failing to comply. The city’s municipal code, as written, is classified as a “stop and identify” law and is clearly unconstitutional.

Encounters would escalate, even if the initial stop was lawful. When people would try to record the interaction, the police would demand that they stop claiming that recording was a danger to the officer. Under the First Amendment, citizens are legally allowed to record officers. Any resistance, including verbal, would result in an arrest. Again, the First Amendment protects a citizen’s right to talk back, even if it’s rude or disrespectful. Escalation to use of excessive force was often punitive and used against women, the mentally ill, as well as children. In one case, a police dog was released on a 14-year-old African American boy who was hiding under the stairs. As the dog bit into his arm, a police officer placed his foot on his head. The boy reported that the officers laughed about it in his presence.

Canines were exclusively used on African Americans.

The officers’ lack of training is a big part of why these incidences escalate. Basic police training should have prevented most of these incidences from ending up in arrests or use of excessive force. However, officers were never disciplined and their actions were, in fact, condoned. Complaints were dismissed by superiors. In the rare cases of a commander admonishing an officer for over-ticketing, his superior would remind him that he could not punish an officer for doing his job. The main job for the entire Ferguson Police Department was to generate revenue.

After the FPD issues the citations, the municipal courts created additional ways to increase the cost. With confusing rules that were rarely explained, people would find themselves paying thousands of dollars on a $100 fine. The court would refuse to allow partial payments or community service. Police would use the failure to pay these fines as a reason to stop and arrest them again.

The fines and fees residents complain about are a result of a directive from the City to focus on revenue instead of public policy. In 2010, this resulted in 10 percent of the city’s general revenue coming from citations and the subsequent court fees. This amount has steadily increased each year, and is written into the budget. Emails show that when forecasting the next year’s budget, city officials would contact the police chief to see if it was possible for officers to increase the number of citations issued. This would be reinforced by officers being judged on how many citations they issued. The city’s 2015 budget expects more than $3 million of its $13 million general fund to come from these fees and fines.

It is unclear where Ferguson will go from here. The DOJ included a long list of reforms that need to be accomplished. The process will result in years of work and millions of dollars, a huge investment for a 54 person force. If the city refuses, they could risk a lawsuit. The only response thus far from the city was an announcement from the mayor that one officer had been fired over the racist emails, and another two had been placed on leave.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons


Jim Ven
Jim Ven3 years ago

thanks for the article.

Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus4 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

Brian F.
Brian F4 years ago

David F No one condones the shooting of these twopolice officers, or any violence here on Care2, but we also don't condone the Ferguson Police Department that ran a ticket scam targeting the poor and mostly black residents so they can generate revenue for the city. The racist e-mails were also disgusting. As to brown's murder, remember the police chief lied about the distance Wilson's SUV was from the murder, and Wilson lied about his size, trying to make himself feel small next to Michael, when at 6-4 225, he is just as big. One witness for Wilson was a racist, who lied about her whereabouts that day. So a trial is needed to determine the guilt or innocence of Darren Wilson. Unfortunately even though you defend Wilson, without any evidence to support your claim, you say nothing about the racist Ferguson, MO police department that extorted money from the poor mostly black residents of Ferguson, MO, by criminalizing and ticketing them for any minor offense they could find, and trumping up phony charges. This proves as Kevin said that you are a racist.

Kevin Brown
Kevin Brown4 years ago

David F. always celebrates when a black person is killed. He probably looks at the pictures and postcards of lynchings and wishes that he was in the crowd.

Kevin Brown
Kevin Brown4 years ago

Lol, now David F., our resident white supremacist, is accusing everyone who recognizes racism as bigots.

David, you are full-on conservative, tea-bagger howling at the moon delusional at this point. I knew watching all that fox news was going to totally fry your brain eventually.

Kevin Brown
Kevin Brown4 years ago

David F. sounds exactly like the bigots from the civil rights movement who blamed the violence on the people trying to fight for justice and equality.

It is certainly wrong that those officers were shot, but thank god they are going to live, which is more than can be said for the many, many unarmed and innocent people shot and killed by trigger-happy cops.

Do you really believe that we can continue to allow people to be gunned down by police in a manner similar to the old "lynch mobs" that terrorized Black Americans for so many years? Eventually there is going to be retaliation.

That retaliation is not right, two wrongs never make a right, however, they can certainly be expected if the travesty of police murdering unarmed civilians (the majority of whom are of color).

Anyone who assaults a police officer needs to be caught and punished under the full weight of the law. Additionally, any police officer who abuses their authority and shoots down unarmed citizens should likewise be punished!

pam w.
pam w4 years ago

David F. is rattling his mouth and his hatreds again.

Robert Hamm
Robert Hamm4 years ago

NO one is happy two police officers were shot.

NO ONE here in Care2 caused it. Bigotry caused it hate caused it and there is plenty of it on both sides. Because idiots refuse to address or even understand the ROOT cause.

Tammy I.
Tammy I4 years ago

David F. I am saddened by the shooting of the police officers. Very much so. I, too, will make a prediction: there will be more shootings of innocents until each of us looks into our own hearts and asks what we can do individually and collectively to heal the deep rooted wounds of our country. And then act upon those promptings of our hearts.

Roberto MARINI
Roberto M4 years ago

Disgusting racists and the fact they are public servants is very horrible