FERGUSON, Mo. (Reuters) - The Ferguson, Missouri, city council voted unanimously on Tuesday to accept an agreement with the U.S. Justice Department to reform the city’s police department after the 2014 shooting of an unarmed black teenager that sparked violent protests.
City officials indicated last week that they would likely accept terms of the consent decree, after receiving assurances from the Justice Department that it would work with Ferguson to ensure the agreement would not cripple city finances.
The city council accepted the basic terms of the agreement last month, but asked federal officials to make changes related to pay levels for police officers and staffing levels at the city jail, as well as asking for additional time to comply. The Justice Department responded by suing the city to force compliance with the agreement.
The council approved the agreement without changes at its meeting on Tuesday evening, a vote that avoids “the time and cost of litigating the (Justice Department’s) claims,” the city said in a statement.
The city and Justice Department will ask a federal judge in St. Louis to approve the settlement agreement, with an independent monitor appointed to oversee reforms.
A number of American cities such as Seattle and Albuquerque have entered into police reform pacts.
The fatal shooting of unarmed Michael Brown, 18, by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson, who is white, exposed friction between the city government and the largely black community. Ferguson erupted into violent protests in 2014 after a grand jury chose not to indict the officer.
Last year, a U.S. investigation found systemic racial bias by police targeted blacks and created a “toxic environment” in Ferguson, but cleared the white officer in the fatal shooting.
The report said the St. Louis suburb disproportionately arrested and issued traffic citations to blacks to boost city coffers through fines, used police as a collection agency and created a culture of distrust that exploded when Wilson fatally shot Brown.
The agreement with the Justice Department requires Ferguson’s police department to give officers bias-awareness training and implement an accountability system. The city also agreed that police must ensure that stop, search and arrest practices do not discriminate on the basis of race or other factors protected under law.
The settlement also requires the city to change its municipal code, including sections that impose prison time for failure to pay certain fines.
The city has steadily been rolling out reforms on items such as court fines and bail bonds.
Reporting by Sue Britt in Ferguson, Missouri; Writing by Ben Klayman; Editing by Bill Rigby, Tom Brown and Bernard Orr
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