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DOJ Report Faults Police Response to Ferguson Protest

by Pete Williams /
A protester is arrested outside of the St. Louis city hall Wednesday during riots over a grand jury's decision not to indict police officer Darren Wilson in the fatal shooting of Michael Brown, on Nov. 26, 2014.
A protester is arrested outside of the St. Louis city hall Wednesday during riots over a grand jury's decision not to indict police officer Darren Wilson in the fatal shooting of Michael Brown, on Nov. 26, 2014.AP File

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Police agencies responding to protests last year in Ferguson, Missouri employed tactics that increased tensions between law enforcement and protesters, according to a draft report prepared by the Justice Department's Office of Community Oriented Policing Service, known as COPS.

The report, which has not yet been issued, says the use of dogs, snipers, and tactical vehicles designed for the military "served to escalate rather than de-escalate the overall situation," NBC News has learned.

The COPS office is conducting a review of how police responded in the first 17 days after the fatal police shooting on August 9 of an unarmed black man, Michael Brown.

The office "will release the final after-action assessment in the coming weeks, which will convey the findings and lessons learned, following review by the agencies that are involved," said a Justice Department spokesman, who declined further comment on the initial findings.

The report says the use of canine teams for controlling crowds of protesters "is inconsistent with widely accepted policing practices and in fact exacerbated tensions by unnecessarily inciting fear and anger."

Deploying officers in tactical gear and the use of military-style vehicles also added to tensions, it says. "Armored vehicles should not be visible to protesters except in narrowly defined circumstances, for example when shots are fired."

The initial COPS findings say commanders failed to issue clear instructions to the variety of responding police agencies about lawful protest. Officers repeatedly told protesters to "keep moving."

As a result, protesters "were provided no clear alternative where they could gather in a zone and stand still."

The findings are being relayed this week to police officials in Ferguson, the city and county of St. Louis, and the Missouri State Highway Patrol. The agencies declined comment on the draft findings.

Brown was fatally shot by a white Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson, who has since resigned. State and federal officials declined to prosecute him.

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