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Ferguson panel pushes for police, court reform

ST. LOUIS -- A reform panel formed after the Ferguson police shooting of Michael Brown is pushing for the consolidation of police departments and municipal courts in the St. Louis area, and decreasing the use of police force.

The Ferguson Commission, a 16-member panel appointed by Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon in November, released a copy of its 198-page report online Monday. Nixon and members of the commission planned to discuss the details at an afternoon news conference.

On Monday afternoon, Gov. Nixon joined members of the commission at the St. Louis Community College to discuss the release of the final report.

CBS News' Michelle Millers reports that the report also calls for deep societal and economic change. Committee co-chair the Reverend Starsky Wilson, says Saint Louis remains one of the most segregated cities in America.

"In the 50 top metropolitan areas, we're 42nd. We must be accountable for that," he said during the press conference. "That in 1 in 5 children live in poverty in our region, we must be accountable for that."

Michelle Miller reports one startling statistic is the life expectancy in neighborhoods based on race. In one predominantly white suburban neighborhood, it is 91.4 years. In a nearby almost all-black suburb, life expectancy is 56 years of age -- a 35 year difference.

The panel wants to increase the minimum wage, provide equal access to education opportunities, expand Medicaid, even to end hunger for inner city kids and families.

The report acknowledges the commission has no power to enact any of the proposals, but Nixon has said the group has his office's full support.

"The law says all citizens are equal," the report's introduction states. "But the data says not everyone is treated that way."

The events in Ferguson raised concerns about police departments and municipal courts in that north St. Louis County town, and elsewhere in the region. The departments and courts have been accused of targeting minorities to raise revenue, leading to mistrust that was a key component of unrest following Brown's death.

Brown, 18, who was black and unarmed, was killed by Ferguson officer Darren Wilson during a confrontation in August 2014. A St. Louis County grand jury and the U.S. Department of Justice declined to prosecute Wilson, who is white, but the shooting spurred a national "Black Lives Matter" movement and led to protests and rioting in and around Ferguson.

The report said the panel heard from many black residents "who do not feel heard or respected when they interact with the police or the courts. They do not feel that they are treated in an unbiased way."

Relations with police were strained in parts of the St. Louis region before the shooting, partly because of excessive force, the report said.

"The regular use of force has led many citizens to view the police as an occupying force in their neighborhoods, damaging community trust, and making community safety even more difficult," the report said.

It suggested new use-of-force policies, officer training and a change in department culture. It also recommended establishment of a statewide database of use-of-force incidents and statistics.

The report notes St. Louis County has 81 municipal courts and 60 municipal police departments - and recommends consolidating at least 18 of those departments into just three that would oversee different areas of north St. Louis County.

The fragmentation "is not only costly and a grossly inefficient use of taxpayer resources, but more importantly presents as an impediment to justice for many of our region's citizens," the report said.

The commission also recommended a statewide plan to deal with mass demonstrations.

Some observers were skeptical about the value of the report. Remy Cross, a criminologist and sociologist at Webster University in suburban St. Louis, isn't optimistic that it will lead to significant change.

"It's hard not to be cynical of these kinds of reports given the track record," Cross said. "They (commissioners) are really not given any authority. Everybody agrees with the report, and nothing really comes of it because no one wants to pony up the money or get down to the brass tacks of the policy changes."

Ferguson Mayor James Knowles III said his community has made several changes, including installing a new police chief and municipal judge. He was concerned that the name of the commission is misleading.

"One of the worst things they could have done is naming it 'The Ferguson Commission,'" Knowles said. "That's not what it's about. When you do that, it makes it real easy for other communities not feeling the pressure to ask, 'Why do we need to change? There wasn't a riot in our section of the region.'"