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The more the Justice Department investigates Ferguson, the more police misconduct it finds

A police officer watches over Ferguson protesters atop an armored truck.
A police officer watches over Ferguson protesters atop an armored truck.
Scott Olson/Getty Images

The Justice Department will release a report criticizing the many ways the police response to the Ferguson, Missouri, protests failed, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch's Christine Byers.

The protests, which followed the police shooting of Michael Brown last August, rose to the national spotlight after local law enforcement responded with military-grade gear — in what many saw as an overreaction to largely peaceful protests. The Justice Department analyzed the actions of four police departments — Ferguson, St. Louis County, St. Louis, and the Missouri Highway Patrol — in the first 16 days of the demonstrations.

According to Byers, the Justice Department's analysis found that police reacted in an uncoordinated manner and sometimes violated people's rights to assembly and free speech, including when they established "arbitrary" rules that required protesters to keep moving at all times.

Byers reported that the Justice Department's review also found that placing a police officer on top of an armored vehicle to watch over demonstrators through rifle sights was "inappropriate" and served to "exacerbate tensions between protesters and the police." The report also stated that police's use of dogs for crowd control often scared and angered crowds, and tear gas was sometimes deployed without warning and in areas where people couldn't safely retreat.

The aggressive tactics of law enforcement come as little surprise to critics, who argue that police's use of military-grade equipment worsened the situation on the ground by helping to establish an us-versus-them mentality. With protesters already upset at the Brown shooting and the Ferguson Police Department in general, the harsh law enforcement tactics only served to cement local distrust in the police.

The Justice Department also reportedly argues that the entire situation could have been avoided through increased transparency from local officials: "Had law enforcement released information on the officer-involved shooting in a timely manner and continued the information flow as it became available, community distrust and media skepticism would most likely have been lessened."

The report is the third to be released by the Justice Department in response to the Ferguson protests, although it's unclear when it will be made public. The first said there wasn't sufficient evidence that former Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson was in the wrong when he shot and killed Brown, and the second criticized a pattern of racial bias at the Ferguson Police Department that was at least partly explained by unlawful bias and stereotypes against African Americans. A fourth report — on the St. Louis County Police Department — is expected to be released later this year.

The Justice Department's multiple reports on Ferguson speak to the broader scrutiny police have fallen under in the aftermath of the Brown shooting. Since then, demonstrations have taken place in Baltimore, Cleveland, New York City, and across the country as people speak out against racial disparities in police use of force.