Ferguson police chief: ‘I’m going to stay and see this through’
FERGUSON, Missouri (CNN) — Under fire, the police chief in Ferguson, Missouri, told CNN on Thursday that he has no intention of stepping down.
“I’m going to stay and see this through,” said Chief Thomas Jackson.
“I report to the city manager, period. And as long as he and the council support me, then I intend to stay. I certainly have the support of the police department and the community. I have a lot of support in the community. I think this is my job to complete, and I’m going to do it,” he said.
Jackson heads the Ferguson Police Department, which drew national attention when protests erupted after the shooting death of Michael Brown, 18, an unarmed African-American.
Brown was shot by Officer Darren Wilson, who is white.
Wilson hasn’t been charged, though a grand jury is hearing evidence and will determine whether to indict him.
Shortly after the shooting, chaos gripped the St. Louis suburb. Protests turned violent as police cracked down, prompting street clashes.
Jackson faced criticism over his department’s handling of the Brown shooting and the protests in its aftermath. But, he insists, he will not resign.
“This is my job. This happened on my watch, and I intend to see it through. I think I’m very capable of doing that, and I have a lot of people behind me that believe so as well,” the chief told CNN.
The Justice Department is investigating Ferguson police. Investigators are looking at the department’s use of force; analyzing stops, searches and arrests; and examining the treatment of people detained at the city jail, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has said.
Some officials have expressed a desire to dissolve the entire department and turn over law enforcement to St. Louis County police.
Holder has said the Justice Department’s investigation includes the leadership of the department.
“We’re looking at a whole variety of things, including the leadership of that department, the practices that the department engages in, the nature of the interaction between the department and the community that it is supposed to serve,” Holder said.
Holder has declined to comment on whether the police chief should be removed, but he has not been shy about expressing his views.
“It’s pretty clear that the need for wholesale change is appropriate,” he said this month.
Jackson found fault with Holder’s comment, as well as aspects of Holder’s visit to the area, including his conclusions.
“He’s drawn a conclusion that wholesale change needs to be made,” said Jackson. “We have a lot of good stuff going on, so I think he needs to be a little more specific.”
The police chief also defended the handling of the sometimes violent protests in the wake of the shooting.
“There was firebombs thrown. There were shots fired, for several nights in a row, shots fired at police officers and vehicles. And through all of that, the tactics that were used resulted in no injuries to any protesters or police officers. So, that’s actually something to be quite happy about,” Jackson said.
Mayor James Knowles has said there is no plan in place for the police chief to step down. He said the city will continue to stand by the chief.
Last month, Jackson released a video apology directed at Brown’s parents and the peaceful demonstrators who took to Ferguson’s streets to protest the teen’s death. In particular, he apologized that his department left Brown’s body in the street for four hours after the shooting, and for his department’s failure to protect the demonstrators’ right to assemble.
He acknowledged that the incident had sparked a larger conversation about societal issues, saying Ferguson and the surrounding areas have “much work to do.”
“Overnight I went from being a small-town police chief to being part of a conversation about racism, equality and the role of policing in that conversation. As chief of police, I want to be part of that conversation. I also want to be part of the solution,” he said.
“For any mistakes I’ve made, I take full responsibility. It’s an honor to serve the city of Ferguson and the people who live there. I look forward to working with you in the future to solve our problems, and once again, I deeply apologize to the Brown family,” he said.
Later that day, he waded into a crowd at a protest and apologized again.
Some people seemed satisfied by his apologies, but not everyone was eager to hear from him.
One man shouted into a bullhorn, “If you are not resigning tonight, go home.”
Part of why he wants to stay, Jackson said, is because he finds it painful to watch what’s happening in his community. He said he wants to help heal it.
Although the department has done a lot around the issue, police need to work harder on minority recruitment and retention, the chief said.
Ferguson is a predominantly black community with a mostly white police force. At the time of Brown’s shooting, only three of the city’s 53 officers were African-American.
Police can also put more of an emphasis on community-oriented policing and problem-solving, Jackson said.
Asked whether those sort of changes will be enough to restore calm, the chief replied: “What’s enough is sort of dependent on what’s the right thing to do, and that’s what I’m focused on.”
But he knows the issue is much bigger than one person.
“I’m just one of the players. This is going to take the entire community,” Jackson said.
Jason Carroll reported in Ferguson. CNN’s Faith Karimi and Dana Ford reported and wrote in Atlanta.