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Ferguson, Mo., approves DOJ agreement to fix police department

The unanimous vote came after assurances the city could handle the increased costs of raising police salaries.
By Ed Adamczyk Follow @adamczyk_ed Contact the Author   |   March 16, 2016 at 8:12 AM
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FERGUSON, Mo., March 16 (UPI) -- The Ferguson, Mo., city council approved a U.S. Department of Justice consent decree to change practices in the city's police force.

The unanimous vote Tuesday came after the proposals were rejected six weeks earlier amid concerns over the cost of the upgrades, notably to police salaries. That rejection prompted a federal lawsuit. The reversal came after Vanita Gupta, head of the Justice Department's civil rights division, wrote a March 4 letter to the council, noting the projected costs of the reforms were inflated.

Jeffrey Blume, the city's finance director, projected the costs to Ferguson of honoring the agreement to be as high as $3.7 million in the first year, largely because of a stipulation demanding competitive salaries be paid to police. The city's operating budget is $14.5 million.

Gupta's letter included an assurance the agreement does not demand immediate improvement in salaries or specify percentage increases.

The vote Tuesday ended with a hug between Ferguson Mayor James Knowles III and Michael Brown Sr., father of Michael Brown, Jr. The 18-year-old's shooting death in August 2014 by a police officer led to protests and the federal investigation into racial discrimination in the city's police and municipal courts. The agreement with the Justice Department of Justice is expected to be in force for three to five years.

"Tonight, the city of Ferguson, Mo., took an important step toward guaranteeing all of its citizens the protections of our Constitution. We are pleased that they have approved the consent decree, a document designed to provide the framework needed to institute constitutional policing in Ferguson, and look forward to filing it in court in the coming days and beginning to work with them toward implementation," Gupta said in a statement after the vote.

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