In response to an open records request, VICE News has obtained the Ferguson Police Department’s Code of Conduct. The 776 pages of “General Orders” signed by Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson lays out department procedures and instructs officers how to perform their jobs, including: 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. It would appear that Ferguson police do not always follow those procedures and instructions.
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.
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.
Hacktivist group Anonymous leaked audio from St. Louis Dispatch at the time of the shooting. The incident is reported as a “crowd control problem” at 12:05pm. No shooting is mentioned until it is called in to dispatch by a witness referencing a news report. When contacted by St. Louis Dispatch to confirm, Ferguson police denied any knowledge of an officer-involved shooting. No EMS was called to the scene.
The watch commander will complete the Use of Force Report F-080 and forward it through the chain of command to the Chief.
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.
“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.”
On September 4, the DOJ announced the launch of a civil rights investigation of the Ferguson police department. DOJ officials said that the probe 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.
“The name tag will be worn on both the uniform shirt and jacket,” states the department’s uniform and equipment policy. “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. The lack of transparency even prompted the Department of Justice to reprimand Ferguson police in a letter addressed to Chief Thomas Jackson.
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.
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.
According to the department’s own guidelines, 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, and “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.”
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.”
“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.
According to the 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 open records request.
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.”
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.