The city of Ferguson has hired a new chief to head up its embattled police department in the wake of the fatal shooting of Michael Brown by an officer.
Delrish Moss, an African American police major from Miami, Florida, has been announced as the permanent replacement for chief Tom Jackson in the Missouri city.
Jackson resigned last year after a scathing Justice Department review of Ferguson’s policing uncovered officers trading racist jibes with one another and apparently treating black citizens as cash cows to swell the city’s coffers.
Ferguson’s police department was thrown into chaos in August 2014 after officer Darren Wilson shot dead Michael Brown, an unarmed black 18-year-old whom Wilson suspected of stealing cigars.
The shooting prompted months of unrest that sometimes grew violent and helped spark the national Black Lives Matter movement.
Heavily-armed riot police were called in to deal with violent demonstrators, who marched on the police headquarters and set fire to homes and businesses.
The unrest reached its peak after a St Louis County grand jury in November 2014, decided not to charge Wilson over the killing.
Wilson resigned from the police a few months later to ‘allow the community to heal’.
But the US Department of Justice issued a critical report of Ferguson police department in March 2015, citing racial bias in policing and a municipal court system that made money at poor and minority residents’ expense.
Then-Attorney General Eric Holder said that in the city a ‘deep distrust and hostility often characterized interactions between police and residents’.
The report also suggested that officers targeted black people with traffic violations in order to bring in money for the city.
Those who could not pay were jailed or given further charges, bringing in more fines and trapping citizens in a cycle while swelling the coffers used to pay for things like police salaries, the report said.
It also uncovered explicit racism within the department itself, including emails employees sent to each other comparing Barack Obama to a monkey and characterizing black people as deadbeats and welfare claimants.
Ferguson’s city manager, municipal judge and police chief Tom Jackson all resigned within days of the report. Just two weeks ago, the city council agreed to a settlement with the justice department that calls for major reforms in the city’s criminal justice system.
‘This has been a long and strenuous process, but we believe Major Moss is the right choice,’ Ferguson Mayor James Knowles III said.
‘We understand the past 18 months have not been easy for everyone, but the City is now moving forward and we are excited to have Major Moss lead our police department.’
‘Ferguson needs a lot of things,’ Moss recently told the Miami Herald. ‘It needs a massive recruiting drive to become more reflective of the community. You can’t tell me there are no qualified African-Americans in that community.’
Moss, 51, grew up in Miami’s inner-city Overtown neighborhood and as a teenager lived through rioting after white police officers fatally beat a black motorcyclist in 1980.
‘I lived in Overtown when it burned. You see things being destroyed,’ Moss told the Herald in early March.
‘The people hurt the most are not the police or the businesses outside the area. It’s the people who live there. And I was one of those families.’
He joined Miami police in 1984, steadily rising through the ranks. He worked for a time in the homicide unit, according to his LinkedIn page, before taking over media and community relations 20 years ago.
The job entails handling the city’s media and working with community leaders, particularly in high-crime areas such as the Liberty City neighborhood, according to the department.
Moss was named to Miami Police Chief John Timoney’s executive staff in 2009, and promoted to major two years later.
His Miami office is filled with plaques of appreciation from city leaders, activists and church elders.
He is a member of the NAACP and president of the Police Athletic League, which works with young athletes.
Moss was scheduled to retire from the Miami department in September.
The officer was among 54 candidates for the top police job in Ferguson, a St. Louis County town of about 20,000 residents.
Andre Anderson, a black veteran of the police department in Glendale, Arizona, took over as six-month interim chief from Jackson in Ferguson in July, and was expected to be a candidate for the permanent job.
But he resigned early, leaving December 2. He cited a desire to return to his family in Arizona.
Ferguson’s leadership was mostly white at the time of Brown’s death, in a town where two thirds of the town’s population are African-American.
But the city is beginning to make an effort to recruit more black officers, while the new city manager, municipal judge and police chief are all black men.