Ferguson After-Action Assessment

This past August marked the one-year anniversary of the fatal shooting of Michael Brown by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri. Subsequent unrest unraveled in Ferguson in the months that followed Brown’s death, unrest that recently resurfaced in a third wave that occurred between August 9, 2015 and August 11, 2015. Yesterday the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services released a Ferguson after-action report titled, After-Action Assessment of the Police Response to the August 2014 Demonstrations in Ferguson, Missouri. This after-action report reviews the, “…regional law enforcement response to the demonstrations, protests, and rioting that occurred during the 17 days following the shooting of Michael Brown.” The overarching purpose of this report’s release is to provide U.S. law enforcement agencies with lessons learned concerning the police response in Ferguson. In total, this report discusses 48 findings and 100 lessons learned as a result of the police response to mass demonstrations in Ferguson.

As a result of this report, six key themes emerged regarding the police response during the first wave of unrest. These themes that are discussed throughout the report include the following:

  1. Inconsistent leadership.
  2. Failure to understand endemic problems in the community.
  3. A reactive rather than proactive strategy.
  4. Inadequate communication and information sharing.
  5. Use of ineffective and inappropriate strategies and tactics.
  6. Lack of law enforcement response continuity.

Findings of interest that are revealed in the report are highlighted below:

  • “The Ferguson PD lacked community relationships with residents of Canfield Green Apartments and with much of the African-American community.”
  • “The protests were sparked by the shooting of Michael Brown, but they were also a manifestation of the long-standing tension between the Ferguson PD and the African-American community.”
  • “The assessment team identified a lack of thorough documentation of the use of CS gas (tear gas), including justification, deployment strategy, and outcomes. The team also identified instances of tear gas being deployed inappropriately without proper warnings, without sufficient attention paid to safe egress, and without consideration for environmental conditions…”
  • “The overwatch tactic, in which police snipers took positions on top of tactical vehicles and used their rifle sights to monitor the crowd, was inappropriate as a crowd control measure.”
  • “Unified command failed to establish a clearly marked First Amendment free speech zone until August 19, 2014. This delay, coupled with the ‘keep moving’ order, had an overall effect of discouraging protesters from exercising their First Amendment rights.”
  • “During the law enforcement response to the protests, some officers removed their nameplates. This behavior defeated an essential level of on-scene accountability that is fundamental to the perception of procedural justice and legitimacy.”
  • “Officers and civilian personnel were not prepared for the volume and severity of personal threats on themselves and their families, which created additional emotional stress for those involved in the Ferguson response.”

To read all 48 findings and review the 100 lessons learned as a result of these findings, make sure to read the report in full. For more information about the mass protests in Ferguson and police response, please review the Investigation of the Ferguson Police Department document that is available through the Homeland Security Digital Library. (HSDL log-in may be required.)


Article formerly posted at https://www.hsdl.org/blog/newpost/view/ferguson-after-action-assessment