The Ferguson Police Department's Code of Conduct covers a lot: the training of new officers, the "rights of victims and witnesses," discipline, racial bias, the use of force, the type of weapons issued to all officers — even name tags.
"The name tag will be worn on both the uniform shirt and jacket," states the department's uniform and equipment policy, recently obtained by VICE News along with hundreds of other department guidelines in response to an open records request. "The name tag shall consist of the officer's first initial and his last name."
The guidelines also state that police officers must provide their names, rank, and other identifying information to anyone who asks for it. But officers from the Ferguson Police Department — and other police departments — repeatedly failed to display identification or provide identifying information during the protests that followed the August 9 shooting death of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson. The lack of transparency even prompted the Department of Justice to reprimand Ferguson police in a letter addressed to Chief Thomas Jackson.
The 776 pages of "General Orders" signed by Jackson and obtained by VICE News (pdf below) lays out department procedures and instructs officers how to perform their jobs. It would appear that Ferguson police do not always follow those procedures and instructions.
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The department has a 4-year-old written policy that says it does not condone racial bias or racial profiling.
"Biased based profiling is unethical and illegal, and serves to foster distrust of law enforcement by the community we serve," states the department's policy guidance, which notes that such behavior is not "condoned" and "will not be tolerated" by the department.
Police officers "will not use their position of authority to abuse any citizen," and officers will treat people with whom they interact "equally and in a courteous manner."
Courteous was not a word often used to describe the hundreds of officers who took to the streets of Ferguson following protests over Brown's shooting. As the demonstrations intensified, several police departments moved personnel into Ferguson, including the St. Louis County police department and, according to officers with whom VICE News spoke, towns as far as three hours away.
Ferguson, a majority black suburb, has 53 police officers — three of whom are black.
Most of the residents and protesters who took to the streets following Brown's death maintained that the teen was killed "because he was black," and many said they regularly experienced racism from Ferguson police. Residents with whom we spoke reported feeling abused and humiliated, and often said they were made to feel "like animals."
On September 4, the DOJ announced the launch of a civil rights investigation of the Ferguson police department. DOJ officials said that the probe — a separate one had already been launched to investigate Brown's death specifically — will examine patterns of stops and arrests, the use of force, police training, and the treatment of prisoners held in Ferguson's jail to determine whether discrimination regularly played a role.
Missouri Governor Jay Nixon tasked the state's Highway Patrol division with control of the protests — a decision widely seen as an attempt to calm down angry residents, but one that was resented by some local law enforcement. Ferguson police, along with police from other departments, remained on the streets.
Most — though not all — of the officers VICE News observed in Ferguson appeared disinterested in differentiating between hostile protesters, peaceful protestors, media, and residents caught in the middle of the confrontations. As police set up roadblocks around the suburb, officers regularly yelled at residents who asked to be let through to reach their own homes, and refused to let them pass.
More than once, VICE News witnessed police officers drawing their guns on peaceful people, including journalists. Ferguson police officers who brandish their weapons in this manner would be in violation of the department's code of conduct.
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During the protests, police officers detained several reporters. Officers refused to disclose their own names when asked, nor did they disclose the reasons they'd detained the journalists, who were sometimes held for hours.
However, according to the department's own guidelines for interacting with the press, the media is entitled to receive details about the identity of the arresting and investigating officers as long as it doesn't comprise undercover probes.
Additionally, police officers are advised to provide the media with information surrounding "the facts of the arrest and circumstances immediately surrounding it, including time and location; resistance, if any; pursuit; and the use or possession of weapons."
In Ferguson, journalists struggled to obtain information from the Ferguson police officers — and other law enforcement — who were present during the protests. This, even though Ferguson's guidelines state that at "any planned police operation which is likely to attract news media attention" a designated officer will "act as a liaison with any news media reporters" and disclose certain information.
"Media personnel will not be barred from filming or photographing a scene as long as this activity is outside the secure zone and they do not interfere with the conduct of the investigation, or other police operations," the policy states. "If practical, the ranking officer at a crime or incident scene may give media members guided access to the scene, except when the incident is on private property and the owner requests the media to leave."
After Nixon announced a temporary state of emergency and curfew on August 16, members of the media were told they would be allowed outside between midnight and 5am — when the curfew was in effect — as long as they remained in a designated "media zone" far from the center of the protests. On at least one occasion, police ordered reporters to leave the media zone area as well. It was not clear how the state of emergency affected standard police regulations, and officers on the ground did not respond to our questions about it.
According to those regulations, Ferguson police officers are required to wear "body-worn camera recorders… to record contacts with the general public." But the department declined to turn over to VICE News copies of its recordings from the protests in response to our open records request.
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The department's policy dictates that lethal force may be used only if the officer believes that his life or the lives of others are in danger, and only if attempts at capture have been exhausted.
"A police officer must weigh the necessity of apprehension against the apparent threat to the safety of all involved, and exhaust every alternative means of apprehension known to be available at the time before resorting to the use of lethal force," says the July 6, 2010 general order.
The directive also states that "if feasible," the officer shall issue a "verbal warning" before using lethal force. Additionally, the use of lethal force is permitted against a fleeing suspect only if there is a "substantial risk" that the person will cause "death or serious physical injury if apprehension is delayed."
After an officer fires a weapon causing injury or death, the Bureau of Investigations is supposed to be notified, and an internal investigation is then supposed to be launched. The guidelines also say:
The Communications Dispatcher shall be notified immediately either by the officer involved in the incident or the first police officer on the scene.
The watch commander shall respond to the scene and be responsible for the command and protection of the scene until the arrival of the Bureau of Investigations investigator(s). He shall assist, as necessary, in the investigation of the incident and arrange to have a police officer, not involved, prepare the original report.
The watch commander will complete the Use of Force Report F-080 and forward it through the chain of command to the Chief.
The Chief of Police will direct the Professional Standards Officer to conduct an administrative review of all incidents where a gunshot wound is inflicted.
But city officials responding to media requests for the "use of force" report filed after Brown's death said that such a report did not exist — a clear violation of the department's own guidelines as well as of established standards for police departments nationwide.
While accounts of the encounter between Brown and Wilson differ, the autopsy revealed that Brown was struck by at least six bullets, including two that hit him in the head.
During the weeks-long protests in the city after Brown's death, Ferguson police officers were accused of indiscriminately using tear gas and wooden pellets to subdue protesters. The use of force policy does say that "less lethal" forms of force, such as pepper spray and "chemical agents," can be used "at the discretion of a supervisory officer when warranted in matters of crowd control" — but "only after all other reasonable efforts to control the situation have failed."
Different police departments fired tear gas dozens of times in the first weeks of the protests — usually after ordering protesters off the streets through loudspeakers.
On at least one occasion, police responding to protesters ordered people to disperse more than two hours before a curfew imposed by officials during the state of emergency. Those who were outside their homes — including, reportedly, children — found themselves caught in the middle of the confrontations.
"Whenever chemical agents are used, the supervisory officer who authorized usage will send a Use of Force form to the Chief of Police listing the details of the incident and justification for use of the chemical agent," the policy guidance says.
However, it's unclear if incident reports exist. Police officials would not respond to VICE News' requests for comment.