The Department of Justice expects to spend more than $1 million on the federal taxpayers dime to produce two reports related to Law Enforcement in Ferguson and St. Louis County.
Documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act have faulted Ferguson police ‘for lack of coordination and for their responses to peaceful protests and riots that sometimes violated free-speech rights, antagonized crowds with military-style tactics and shielded officers from accountability.’
Former St. Louis County police chief Tim Fitch questioned how any report that the Justice Department pays for is going to be objective.
“They’re being paid to say whatever the DOJ wants them to say,” he said.
Police One Reports:
Copies of contracts with the Department of Justice reveal estimates that it will cost about $780,000 for the Police Foundation to produce a report on “collaborative reform” for the St. Louis County Police Department. The project was launched in the aftermath of last summer’s shooting death of Michael Brown by Ferguson police Officer Darren Wilson.
In addition, an “after-action” report on how police responded to demonstrations, looting and violence in the 17 days after the shooting will cost federal taxpayers $225,000, according to an estimate submitted by the author, Florida-based Institute for Intergovernmental Research Inc.
Both reports could be released to the public as early as next month.
The Justice Department’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services contracted with both organizations. The Post-Dispatch obtained copies of those contracts through the Freedom of Information Act.
The Post-Dispatch reported in June that a draft of the Ferguson after-action report faulted police for lack of coordination and for their responses to peaceful protests and riots that sometimes violated free-speech rights, antagonized crowds with military-style tactics and shielded officers from accountability.
St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar requested the collaborative reform report for St. Louis County in September. Belmar said at a news conference last year that he welcomed the federal scrutiny. During a police board meeting in March, Belmar said the Justice Department had expanded its investigation by requesting use-of-force documentation. He said he had to devote three officers to comply with the federal government’s request for documents.
St. Louis County’s collaborative reform process is intended to be less costly and more efficient than the kind of consent decree being imposed on Ferguson, according to a report published by the Police Executive Research Forum in 2013. Police departments and cities can volunteer for a collaborative reform; consent decrees, like the one now being negotiated between the Justice Department and Ferguson, are imposed under threat of legal action.
According to the documents obtained by the Post-Dispatch, the Institute for Intergovernmental Research planned five visits to the St. Louis area between Nov. 12, 2014, and Feb. 23, 2015.
Former St. Louis County police chief Tim Fitch has questioned how any report that the Justice Department pays for is going to be objective.
“They’re being paid to say whatever the DOJ wants them to say,” he said.
Fitch noted that the St. Louis County Police Department is one of only about two dozen police departments in the nation to hold the highest accreditation, which involves a review of its policies every three years by outside experts.“It certainly is stunning that the DOJ would spend that amount of money to conduct a review of a police agency that already has the highest level of accreditation of any agency in the country,” he said. Spokespeople for both companies directed questions to the Justice Department.Spokeswoman Mary Brandenberger said the Justice Department hires outside contractors to produce “nonbiased, fair and objective” reports, for which there is a price.
“I’m not aware of any police analysis charities out there,” she said.
Fitch countered that the feds should allow police agencies to hire their own experts, so both sides of an issue could be presented to decision makers.
Fitch also noted that the Police Foundation’s president, James Bueermann, was critical of the police response in Ferguson during interviews with various media sources in August and September.
“So the Department of Justice went shopping for an independent review of the St. Louis County police and lo and behold, they find the guy who was critical of our actions just weeks after the events of last August?” Fitch said. “Why is it any surprise then that this organization stands to make over a million dollars to say the exact same thing the Foundation president was saying last year?”
In a recent radio interview with KMOX’s Mark Reardon, Fitch said he knew someone involved in the draft of the Ferguson after-action report who was upset after the Justice Department rejected an initial draft of the after-action review and ordered a rewrite because it wasn’t harsh enough.
Brandenberger said a consultant that the Justice Department had previously used in Oakland, Calif., was brought in to fill “gaps” in the Ferguson report, based on that consultant’s experience in writing an after-action report on police response to the “Occupy” movement in Oakland in 2011.
“We peer-review everything,” Brandenberger said. “It is a third-party, independent analysis.”
Brandenberger said that COPS Director Ronald Davis, a former police chief, said he believed there were “gaps” in the report and that he remembered the Oakland study as being comprehensive.
Brandenberger added: “It wasn’t so much that there was anything wrong with it — (Davis) just wanted more of it.”
Brandenberger said the total cost of both studies won’t be known until they are complete.But in its estimate, Institute for Intergovernmental Research said it anticipated $54,450 for contractors and $37,600 to travel to St. Louis as part of an overall budget of $225,000 for the report on the 17 days of law enforcement response to Ferguson.The separate Police Foundation collaborative reform report of St. Louis County police anticipated more than 140 days of consultant work, spread among at least a half dozen consultants, at a rate of $550 a day. The estimates on consultants’ pay, travel costs, and that of Police Foundation officials over multiple trips to St. Louis, along with other costs, such as phones and space rental, came to more than $780,000, according to the documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act.
Brandenberger said the final cost could be higher or lower. She said the after-action report is a more definitive process, and the DOJ’s involvement will mostly end after it issues its report on Ferguson. The St. Louis County collaborative reform process will last longer, she said.
The Police Foundation last week laid off several members of its national staff. Blake Norton, vice president and chief operating officer of the Police Foundation, said that would not affect the St. Louis County report.
“Our report is proceeding on track and our very limited staff changes will not impact our final product.” Norton said in an email.
Brandenberger said that the two reports are not just aimed at Ferguson and St. Louis County.
“We are not just telling Ferguson what they could have done better, or the agencies in the Ferguson area,” she said. “We are kind of telling everybody else, too, law enforcement agencies across the country, that hopefully you will never have to deal with this situation, but if you do, these are the things that will help avoid” mistakes.