What the Feds Might Investigate in Probe of Ferguson Police

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The Justice Department civil rights investigation into the police department of Ferguson, Missouri, will go far beyond the shooting death of Michael Brown. It could touch on hiring practices and other allegations of excessive force.

The mayor and the police chief both told NBC News on Thursday that they welcomed the investigation. “I’m open to anyone looking into the facts and examining whether or not there's been an issue here,” Mayor James Knowles said.

Added Chief Tom Jackson: "I think it's prudent, given what's going on here."

Some potential areas of inquiry:


The population of Ferguson, a city of 21,000 people, is about 65 percent black. The police department is less than 10 percent black — four officers out of 54, according to the mayor. People who live in Ferguson have cited the imbalance as a source of racial tension.


Black drivers in St. Louis County are 66 percent more likely to be stopped than whites and more likely to be arrested, according to state statistics. Ferguson filed 11,400 traffic cases last year, roughly equal to the number filed in the mostly white city of Chesterfield, which is twice as big.

Small crimes

The racial disparity is even greater for cases involving non-traffic ordinances — citations such as loitering, trespassing and petty larceny. Ferguson filed 12,000 of them last year, more than any other city in the county and up by more than a third since 2009. Chesterfield filed 2,300 of them.

Use of force

The Brown shooting was not the first time that Ferguson police have been accused of going too far. In one case, four officers were accused of beating a man, then charging him with damaging government property by bleeding on their uniforms. Police Chief Thomas Jackson, in an interview with NBC News on Thursday, pointed out that the man was charged with breaking an officer’s nose. “So there’s more to that,” he said, “but that’s, I think, still in the courts.”

The mayor said that other complaints against police that have already been through the courts are being refiled. “There's frankly a dog-piling effect here on the city right now,” he said.