Aamer Madhani, USA TODAY
The St. Louis suburb of Ferguson swore in a new police chief on Monday, turning to a veteran African-American officer from Miami to try to help the department rebound less than two years after racially-charged protests put the community in the international spotlight.
Delrish Moss, 51, who beat out 50 other applicants for the post, takes over after the city in March agreed to terms of a Justice Department consent decree to overhaul the troubled department. The city was plunged into racial turmoil after the shooting death of an unarmed Black teen, Michael Brown, by a white police officer. During his 32 years on the Miami force, Moss served as patrol officer, a member of the homicide unit and most recently as public information officer.
“A lot of answers lie in Ferguson, not necessarily from some magic pill that I’m going to bring to the city,” Moss told KSDK-TV in an interview shortly before he was sworn in on Monday. “I think when you listen to people, when people are having a dialogue back and forth, I think they come to respect each other even if they disagree. I hope that’s going to work for me.”
Ferguson became a potent symbol for frayed relations between police and African-American communities throughout the country following the August 2014 shooting death of Brown, 18, by officer Darren Wilson. Brown was Black and Wilson is white.
Wilson has since left the Ferguson department. A St. Louis County grand jury declined to indict Wilson, and the Justice Department declined to charge the ex-cop for the fatal shooting that came after a struggle between the officer and Brown on a Ferguson street.
Moss replaces former Ferguson Police chief Thomas Jackson, who resigned in March 2015 after a DOJ report offered withering criticism of the department’s policies and practices. The DOJ investigation revealed endemic problems in the treatment of African-Americans by Ferguson’s police and court system.
The city of 21,000 has a budget of about $14 million and is facing about $2.8 million in debt as it goes about implementing the mandated reforms. Much of the debt accrued from police overtime during the unrest following Brown’s death and lost tax revenue from businesses destroyed or badly damaged in rioting.
The agreement calls for a revision in the police department’s training with an emphasis “toward de-escalation and avoiding force — particularly deadly force — except where necessary.”
Ferguson is also required to recruit a more diverse force. Currently, only a handful of officers on the more than 50-officer force are African-American in a city that is nearly 70% Black.