By Elaine Magliaro
According to the draft of a Justice Department report, police in Ferguson, Missouri, escalated tensions after the fatal shooting of Michael Brown. Matt Apuzzo (New York Times) said that the report “describes a chaotic scene in which the police violated people’s constitutional rights and it was often unclear who was in charge and what the orders were.” He added that the draft report concluded that Ferguson police “only worsened tensions and made it harder to regain public confidence and control” after “heavily armed police officers swarmed the streets” in the aftermath of Michael Brown’s death.
The report, which was written by the Justice Department’s community policing unit, “is intended to help police departments improve their policies and tactics.”
The scene on the streets of Ferguson played out live on national television and on social media after Mr. Brown’s death during a scuffle with Officer Wilson. The police responded to the angry, sometimes violent protests with a show of force, one that highlighted the growing use of military equipment and tactics by local police departments.
Snipers trained their rifles on protesters. Officers patrolled city streets in an armored truck that was built with combat in mind. Some officers used tear gas and police dogs to control crowds. Others pointed assault rifles at civilians. Much of the equipment was paid for with federal counterterrorism grants, which have similarly outfitted police departments nationwide since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
Again and again, the equipment was misused, the Justice Department concluded: Tear gas was fired inappropriately, an armored vehicle was deployed in situations that did not warrant it and snipers should not have been used.
According to a copy of the draft report that was obtained by the New York Times, the DOJ found that while “a tactical response was warranted at times during the Ferguson incident because of threats to public safety, the highly elevated initial response of tactical units limited options for a measured, strategic approach.” It said that using such tactical equipment during the day “was not justified and served to escalate rather than de-escalate the overall situation.”
Mark Berman and Wesley Lowery (Washington Post) said that Federal officials had found “multiple problems with the way police deployed equipment and tactics, saying that the presence of everything from armored vehicles to police snipers ‘served to only exacerbate tensions between the protesters and the police.’” Berman and Lowery added that the report also noted that “tactical officers with military-style uniforms, equipment, weapons and armored vehicles” didn’t go over well with the public.
Berman and Lowery:
Some problems also arose from the number of different agencies responding. The radios used by two agencies could not initially communicate with radios used by two other agencies, it states. In addition, with more than 50 law enforcement agencies responding and little in the way of unified guidance, there were “unclear arrest decisions, ambiguous authority on tactical orders, and a confusing citizen complaint process.”
Christine Byers said the St. Louis Post-Dispatch also obtained a copy of the draft report. She said Ferguson police who were attempting to control “protests and riots responded with an uncoordinated effort that sometimes violated free-speech rights, antagonized crowds with military-style tactics and shielded officers from accountability.”
“Vague and arbitrary” orders to keep protesters moving “violated citizens’ right to assembly and free speech, as determined by a U.S. federal court injunction,” according to a summary of a longer report scheduled for delivery this week to police brass in Ferguson, St. Louis County, St. Louis and Missouri Highway Patrol.
Byers noted that they “already have the summary”—which is still subject to revision.
According to Byers, the draft report suggests that the unrest in Ferguson following the shooting of the unarmed black teenager “was aggravated by long-standing community animosity toward Ferguson police, and by a failure of commanders to provide more details to the public after an officer killed Michael Brown.”
According to the document: “Had law enforcement released information on the officer-involved shooting in a timely manner and continued the information flow as it became available, community distrust and media skepticism would most likely have been lessened.” The report said “that use of dogs for crowd control incited fear and anger, and the practice ought to be prohibited.” It also criticized police for using tear gas “without warning and on people in areas from which there was no safe retreat.” The DOJ also found “inconsistencies in the way police used force and made arrests.”
The report reads, “The four core agencies dedicated officer training on operational and tactical skills without appropriate balance of de-escalation and problem-solving training.”
RT said that the draft report “chastised the Ferguson Police Department for failing to manage community reaction and develop a long-term strategy, as well as for maintaining poor relationships with the black community — a problem that ‘over time led to devastating effects.’”
The report summary also stated, “The protests were … also a manifestation of the long-standing tension between the Ferguson (Police Department) and the African-American community.”
According to RT, the summary of a longer report, subject to revision, “is scheduled for delivery to police officials in Ferguson, St. Louis County, St. Louis and Missouri Highway Patrol later this week…Its 45 findings will be accompanied by recommendations.”
Justice Dept. Report Says Police Escalated Tensions in Ferguson (New York Times)
Justice Department faults Ferguson protest response (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)
Justice Dept. report criticizes police response to Ferguson protests (Washington Post)