On Thursday, the Department of Justice plans to announce it will conduct a civil rights investigation of the Ferguson Police Department. NBC’s justice reporter, Pete Williams broke the story, noting the DOJ, with help from the FBI is already investigating the department’s conduct in the shooting death 18-year-old Michael Brown. They are also investigating events related to the protests that followed. During those protests, the police arrested journalists, a Holocaust survivor and others for such infractions as moving too slowly, standing or not being in a designated free speech zone. There were reports that the police threw tear gas at people who were on their own property. Who can forget the images of Ferguson police officers involved in crowd control, armed as if they were at war in Iraq?
Brown, who was unarmed was shot at least 10 times by Ferguson Police officer Darren Wilson. The DOJ is conducting a similar investigation of the County police department.
Williams reports the investigation, to be announced on Thursday, is far broader because it will look at the entire department’s conduct over the past seven years.
Since 1994, the Justice Department has had the legal authority to investigate law enforcement organizations that appear to engage in a pattern of civil rights violations. While some investigations end with agreements to improve the conduct, some have resisted compliance with the recommendations. When that happens, the matter is taken to court for a Judge to decide. In cases that the court supports the DOJ’s recommendations, police departments that fail to comply will be held in contempt of court.
During the past five years, the DOJ launched 20 investigations like this one nationwide. To give you some perspective, that is twice the number of such investigations in the five years before that.