Cities Make Police Changes After Unrest Over Citizen Deaths

Cities Make Police Changes After Unrest Over Citizen Deaths

Police and protesters square off outside the Ferguson Police Department, Wednesday, March 11, 2015, in Ferguson, Mo. Earlier in the day, the resignation of Ferguson police chief Thomas Jackson was announced in the wake of a scathing Justice Department report prompted by the fatal shooting of an unarmed black 18-year-old by a white police officer. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
Police and protesters square off outside the Ferguson Police Department, Wednesday, March 11, 2015, in Ferguson, Mo. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

 

 

The fatal shooting of Michael Brown, a black 18-year-old, by a white Ferguson, Missouri, policeman was a catalyst for change in the St. Louis suburb. Other cities also have made changes over the past year following high-profile cases in which civilians were fatally shot by officers or died in police custody. Here’s a look at some of those incidents that drew national attention and the subsequent changes.

FERGUSON

There was no video of the fatal encounter Aug. 9 between Brown and Ferguson officer Darren Wilson, which escalated from a scuffle at the officer’s vehicle in the center of residential street. Within weeks of Brown’s death, however, Ferguson police began wearing body cameras that were donated to the city. The city also has taken steps toward establishing a citizen board to review complaints against police and the results of internal investigations.

The sometimes violent protests that followed Brown’s death revealed simmering tensions between Ferguson’s predominantly black residents and its overwhelmingly white police force. In September, Ferguson abolished various municipal fines and capped the amount of revenue coming from its court system in an effort to relieve financial burdens on residents. Missouri legislators this year passed a measure imposing additional restrictions on cities’ use of their police and courts to generate revenues.

Wilson resigned after a grand jury declined to charge him in November. More changes came after a U.S. Justice Department report faulted the city and its police force for racial bias. The city manager, police chief, judge and clerk all resigned or were fired, and voters elected three new City Council members. Ferguson recently hired a new interim city manager and interim police chief — both black men who previously worked in Glendale, Arizona. Though the police force remains predominantly white, some additional black officers also have been hired over the past year.

Ferguson Mayor James Knowles III, who is white, contends his city has made more improvements than any other in the nation during the past year. Yet “it seems like every time we meet with people, it’s never enough,” he said.

Ferguson resident Emily Davis, 38, who has been involved in unsuccessful efforts to recall Knowles from office, said the administrative changes aren’t making a difference on the streets.

“People are still being targeted by police officers,” Davis said. The “way that people are treated and the way the community works has not really changed in the last year.”

NEW YORK CITY

A few weeks before Brown’s death, 43-year-old Eric Garner died on July 17, 2014, at the hands of police who suspected him of selling loose, untaxed cigarettes. When he refused to be handcuffed, the 6-foot-2, 395-pound black man was taken to the ground in a chokehold by officer Daniel Pantaleo, who is white. In bystander cellphone videos, Garner is heard repeatedly yelling “I can’t breathe!” before he loses consciousness.

A grand jury declined to charge Pantaleo, but the city reached a $5.9 million settlement with Garner’s family.

The New York City Police Department has undergone a series of changes after Garner’s case, including the installation of three-day training for all officers on how to better communicate with the public. More than 20,000 officers were trained on how to de-escalate confrontations. Police officials said the training was in the works before Garner’s death, but was sped up.

Police Commissioner William Bratton also unveiled a plan that puts police back on the beat, walking their precincts to get better acquainted with shopkeepers and residents. And Bratton has retooled how rookies are assigned, phasing out the practice of funneling new cops to the most crime-ridden neighborhoods in favor of spreading them out around the city so they can learn from other officers.

City police also are expanding an existing body camera program. And Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed an executive order directing Attorney General Eric Schneiderman to appoint special prosecutors to investigate police killings of unarmed civilians.

CLEVELAND

On Nov. 22, rookie Cleveland police officer Timothy Loehmann fatally shot 12-year-old Tamir Rice within seconds after encountering him outside a recreation center where the boy was carrying a pellet gun. The incident was captured on grainy surveillance video. A grand jury has not yet decided whether to charge Loehmann, who is white, with the black child’s death.

In May, Cleveland agreed to a sweeping settlement with the U.S. Justice Department that came after an 18-month investigation accused Cleveland police of a pattern of excessive force and civil rights abuses. The federal investigation was spurred partly by a 2012 case in which police killed two unarmed black suspects by firing 137 shots into their car.

The settlement calls for new guidelines and training in the use of force; a switch to community policing, in which officers work closely with their neighborhoods; an overhaul of the way misconduct allegations are investigated; and new training in avoiding racial stereotyping, among other things. An independent monitor approved by the court will oversee the police force’s compliance.

Gov. Ohio Gov. John Kasich also has created a panel to help develop the state’s first-ever standards for police use of deadly force, and state legislators included an additional $15 million in the state budget to boost police training.

NORTH CHARLESTON

On April 4 in North Charleston, South Carolina, white officer Michael Slager fatally shot Walter Scott, a 50-year-old black man, as Scott tried to run away from the officer following traffic stop. A bystander recorded the shooting on a cellphone video. Slager was charged with murder and fired from the police force immediately after Scott’s family released the video.

The U.S. Justice Department is investigating whether there were civil rights abuses in Scott’s death, but the NAACP and other civil rights leaders also are seeking a broader federal probe into the practices of the police department similar to what was conducted in Cleveland and Ferguson.

South Carolina lawmakers responded by passing legislation requiring local police agencies to develop policies on the use of officer-worn cameras. Police departments will be able to get money from a newly created state fund to help cover the costs of buying cameras and storing video.

BALTIMORE

Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old black man, died a week after he was arrested, handcuffed and shackled during a ride in the back of a Baltimore police van on April 12. At some point, he suffered a fatal spinal cord injury, but there is no video of what transpired inside the van. Six Baltimore officers have been criminally charged in Gray’s death.

Baltimore experienced protests, looting and arson following Gray’s death, similar to what occurred in Ferguson. In July, Police Commissioner Anthony Batts was fired amid plummeting officer morale and the worst crime spike the city has seen since the 1970s. The Baltimore police union also released a report accusing top police officials of instructing officers not to engage with rioters and to allow looting and destruction to occur.

The U.S. Justice Department is conducting a civil rights review of the department.

Maryland’s legislature, which adjourned before Gray’s death, had passed measures this year requiring greater state reporting about deaths that occur in police custody and directing a commission to develop policies for officer-worn cameras. Lawmakers have since created a panel to study whether additional changes are needed to policing practices.

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Associated Press writers Alex Sanz in Ferguson, Missouri; Colleen Long in New York City; Andrew Welsh-Huggins in Columbus, Ohio; Meg Kinnard in Columbia, South Carolina; and Brian Witte in Annapolis, Maryland, contributed to this report.
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