Ferguson hires black police commander as interim chief

2015-07-23 09:09
Andre Anderson leaves at the end of a news conference announcing him as the interim chief of the Ferguson Police Department. (Jeff Roberson, AP)

Andre Anderson leaves at the end of a news conference announcing him as the interim chief of the Ferguson Police Department. (Jeff Roberson, AP)

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Ferguson - Leaders in the city of Ferguson introduced a new interim police chief on Wednesday, tasking the black police commander with building trust between residents of the predominantly black St Louis suburb and its mostly white officers, nearly a year since the death of an unarmed African-American teen roiled racial tensions.

Michael Brown's death at the hands of a white police officer who was never indicted sparked riots in Ferguson and touched off a national "Black Lives Matter" movement seeking changes in how police deal with minorities.

Andre Anderson, a 50-year-old Army veteran with a quarter century in law enforcement, starts in Ferguson on Thursday.

Touted for his knack for community outreach in policing, Anderson arrives in Ferguson as it is still working to get its law enforcement house in order after a scathing US Department of Justice report in March pressed for reforms.

That critique cited racial bias and profiling in policing as well as a profit-driven municipal court system that frequently targeted blacks, who make up about two-thirds of Ferguson's populace.

Resigned

Thomas Jackson, Ferguson's police chief for five years, resigned just days after that report. His top commander, Lieutenant Al Eickhoff, hired by Ferguson just days after the black, unarmed Brown was fatally shot last August 9 by a white officer, was named his interim replacement. Both Jackson and Eickhoff are white.

Neither Anderson nor Ferguson Mayor James Knowles III, who is white, addressed specifics of the Justice Department report during a news conference on Wednesday.

But Anderson acknowledged that efforts to mend fractured relations between Ferguson residents and their police, and improve the police force's diversity may take more than the six months he has been granted a leave from his Arizona job.

Anderson pledged to foster within Ferguson's department the "respect, cultural awareness and the professionalism this community deserves," and he asked the populace to help him "set a course in the history books that clearly proves that peace prevails." New officers, he said, should "reflect the demographics of the community."

Several of Ferguson's top officials, Jackson, the city manager and the municipal judge among them resigned after the Justice Department report investigation initiated after the 18-year-old Brown was shot by Ferguson officer Darren Wilson.

A St Louis County grand jury last November declined to indict Wilson, who later resigned. The Justice Department also declined to prosecute Wilson, announcing that decision at the same time it released its report critical of police and court practices.

Knowles said on Wednesday that in recent months Ferguson has adopted reforms, including hiring a new interim judge and revamping the municipal court system. He said Ferguson police were among the first in the St Louis region to equip officers with body cameras in the wake of Brown's death.

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