Tactics used by police during the days of sometimes-violent street protest last year in Ferguson, Missouri, increased tensions between law enforcement and protesters, according to a report Thursday by the Justice Department's Office of Community Oriented Policing Service, known as COPS.
The report said the use of dogs, snipers and tactical vehicles designed for the military "inflamed tensions and created fear among demonstrators."
The COPS office reviewed how police responded in the 17 days after the fatal police shooting Aug. 9, 2014, of an unarmed black man, Michael Brown.
Although it focused on the conduct of four agencies — St. Louis County police, St. Louis Metropolitan police, the Missouri State Highway Patrol and the Ferguson Police Department — it said more than 50 law enforcement agencies were eventually involved. Their participation suffered from "inconsistency in direction" and a lack of effective communication.
The report said using dog teams for controlling crowds of protesters "invokes powerful emotions in many observing citizens and protesters, particularly where racial tensions exist." Tear gas was used inappropriately, it says, without considering how protesters could safely move away.
Deploying rooftop snipers and military-style vehicles also added to tensions, the report said. The snipers inappropriately used their rifle sights to monitor the crowd, which served "only to exacerbate tensions between the protesters and the police."
The report was also critical of a tactic in which officers repeatedly told protesters to keep moving. Constitutionally protected free expression "was swept up by prohibition of such activity and threat of (or actual) arrest."
And the COPS report says Ferguson police had established virtually no relationship with the residents of the apartment complex where Brown was killed or, for that matter, much of the African-American community in Ferguson.
In a statement Thursday night, the City of Ferguson stressed that the report focuses only on the 17 days of unrest last year, when Ferguson police "received assistance from several law enforcement agencies."
"The events of August 2014 caused many law enforcement agencies to review their policies and procedures," it said. "The City of Ferguson welcomes the opportunity to become a leader in utilizing and implementing innovative law enforcement practices focused on transparency and community trust."
And in a written response, St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar agreed that the report was only a snapshot.
"It falls short as a complete lesson for others in our profession to follow as a guide," he said, adding that he is proud of his staff and "will remain forever indebted to the sacrifices they and their families endured."
Brown was fatally shot by a white Ferguson police officer, Darren Wilson, who has since resigned. State and federal officials declined to prosecute him.