Ferguson City Council votes to accept Justice Department reform deal

U.S. Justice Department plan to overhaul Ferguson's embattled police force could cost $4 million U.S. in the first year alone

FERGUSON, Mo. — The Ferguson City Council has unanimously agreed to accept a U.S. Justice Department plan to overhaul its embattled police force and municipal court system.

Elected leaders in the St. Louis suburb where the fatal police shooting of Michael Brown helped spark the Black Lives Matter movement voted Tuesday night to approve the DOJ consent decree.

The agency and Ferguson reached a tentative agreement in late January, but the council rejected the plan in February over cost concerns, prompting the Justice Department to sue the next day.

City leaders have since said they expected to approve the consent agreement after being assured that the city won’t be required to provide its police officers with pay raises, a provision they feared could bankrupt Ferguson. They tentatively approved the decree at a meeting one week ago. Tuesday’s vote makes it final.

Related: The truth about race, the police and Ferguson

A city analysis indicated implementation costs could approach $4 million U.S. in the first year alone. That led the Ferguson council to amend the agreement in February with seven provisions aimed mostly at keeping costs in check.

Vanita Gupta, the head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, has subsequently suggested Ferguson could receive both technical assistance and grant money for its efforts. Gupta also said in a letter to the mayor and council that if the council adopted the agreement, the lawsuit would be dropped.

The 131-page consent decree is intended to correct problems identified in a scathing Justice Department report last year that found sweeping patterns of racial bias throughout the city’s criminal justice system.

The agreement calls for the hiring of a monitor to ensure Ferguson follows the requirements. New diversity training will be instituted for police, software will be purchased and staff hired to analyze records on arrests, use of force and other police matters. And within 180 days, all patrol officers, supervisors and jail workers will be outfitted with body cameras.

The city had been under federal scrutiny since the August 2014 shooting of Brown, who was black and unarmed, by white police officer Darren Wilson, who was cleared of wrongdoing by the Justice Department in the shooting and whom a St. Louis County grand jury declined to indict.