U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said on Friday that the Justice Department would be prepared to dismantle the Ferguson police department if necessary, after it released a scathing report accusing it of widespread racial bias and corruption, Reuters reported.
“We are prepared to use all the powers that we have, all the power that we have to ensure that the situation changes there and that means everything from working with them to you know coming up with an entirely new structure,” Holder told reporters on Friday.
Asked if that could include dismantling the police department, he replied: “If that's what's necessary, we're prepared to do that." Civil rights lawyers had previously suggested that the city’s police could be folded into the St. Louis county police department.
Holder said he was “shocked” by the scope of corruption revealed in the report, which accused Ferguson police of acting in collusion with court and city government officials who unconstitutionally used fines and warrants to extract revenue from its black residents, creating an environment that the DOJ report called “toxic.”
President Barack Obama also called the results of the report “oppressive and abusive,” but said Ferguson is an isolated case. "I think there are circumstances in which trust between communities and law enforcement have broken down, and individuals or entire departments may not have the training or the accountability to make sure they are protecting serving all people, and not just some," he said Friday.
Holder also said that the task force on policing will issue new guidelines that will address jailing citizens who owe the city money, a common practice in Ferguson. He added, however, that the federal government does not have the authority to enforce a change in local governments.
Justice Department officials are set to meet Ferguson city officials in about two weeks to begin negotiating reforms to the city's police, Ferguson Mayor James Knowles told Reuters: "Our hope is those negotiations lead to mutual satisfaction. But if we cannot come to terms... we are not going to settle."
The city has already fired three police officials who reportedly sent racist emails, including one that compared Obama to a chimpanzee. “This type of behavior will not be tolerated in the Ferguson Police Department,” Knowles said Wednesday.