The Ferguson City Council said Monday that it will make changes to its court systems and establish a citizen review board to provide guidelines for its police department, weeks after the controversial shooting death of a black teenager by a white police officer in the Missouri town. Michael Brown, 19, was shot dead by officer Darren Wilson on Aug. 9, triggering days of protests and a federal inquiry into the incident.
Officials reportedly said that the proposed laws will also reduce court fine revenues -- stemming from violations such as traffic tickets and towing costs -- as these have been criticized for unfairly targeting low-income black citizens in the St. Louis suburb. The shooting death of Brown has highlighted years of complaints of racial discrimination in the predominantly black town with a mostly white government.
“The overall goal of these changes is to improve trust within the community and increase transparency, particularly within Ferguson’s courts and police department,” Councilman Mark Byrne reportedly said, in a statement. “We want to demonstrate to residents that we take their concerns extremely seriously. That’s why we’re initiating new changes within our local police force and in our courts.”
The city council reportedly said that it will eliminate several administrative fees that affect those with low incomes and also set up payment programs for those who have trouble paying traffic fines. The citizen review board is expected to work with the police department to provide oversight of and guidance for the local police force. The board will also reportedly include people who are not involved in local government.
A recent report by ArchCity Defenders, a nonprofit legal group, revealed that the city, which has a majority of African-American residents, saw a traffic fine revenue increase of 44 percent since 2011. The report also stated that the municipal court in Ferguson, which has a population of about 21,135 people, issued 24,532 warrants for 12,018 cases in 2013.
Council members hope that the change in the system “sends a clear message that the fines imposed as punishment in the municipal court are not to be viewed as a source of revenue for the city," the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, a local newspaper reported, citing the statement.
According to the Post-Dispatch, Thomas Harvey, executive director of ArchCity Defenders, said that he was pleased to see the proposals.
“The spirit of this is a great first step,” he reportedly said. “I’m hoping they can improve upon it, and hopefully be a model for other municipalities."