By James Queally
Ferguson, Mo., officials have tapped a veteran Arizona police executive to run their embattled Police Department, nearly a year after the shooting death of unarmed black man Michael Brown sparked riots and a federal investigation, and led to the resignation of several key city officials.
Andre Anderson, a black U.S. Army veteran who previously oversaw criminal investigations for police in Glendale, Ariz., will become Ferguson's interim police chief on Thursday, the city said in a statement.
"The city of Ferguson and our Police Department have endured a tremendous amount of distrust during the past nine months," Mayor James Knowles III said in the statement. "We understand that it will take time to once again gain the trust of everyone. We believe that Cmdr. Anderson can make recommendations to the Police Department that will be innovative and will have long-standing improvements for our citizens and to the entire community."
Anderson will replace Lt. Col. Al Eickhoff, who took up the chief's post after the resignation of Thomas Jackson. It was Jackson who oversaw the chaos that enveloped Ferguson following the death of 18-year-old Brown on Aug. 9, 2014.
Brown was shot and killed by Ferguson police Officer Darren Wilson, sparking months of protests that at times spun out of control, leaving parts of the St. Louis suburb burned and dozens of buildings destroyed. Ferguson officials were heavily criticized for their response to violent protests that followed Brown's death and a grand jury's decision not to indict Wilson in the shooting. A federal investigation later charged that racism was essentially institutionalized within the department, with blacks facing an overwhelming amount of stops and citations.
The probe also uncovered several racially tinged emails from city employees who seemed to revel in using the city's black residents as a revenue stream.
Ferguson officials said they were hopeful that the decision to hire a black leader to take over policing of a majority black community would spark some change, but cautioned against boiling the town's problems down to a simple race issue.
"I think it's a very good step in the right direction, but I do want to say that some of the issues with law enforcement are not just black and white," Democratic Commiteewoman Patricia Bynes told the Los Angeles Times. "A lot of it is police accountability, a lot of it has to do with police culture regardless of the officer's skin color. But I am hopeful that, in his position, that (Anderson) is able to bring a change of culture to the Ferguson Police Department."
Interim City Manager Ed Beasley was also hired from Glendale, Ariz., and Bynes said she hopes his previous work with Anderson will lead to "a kind of synergy" in Ferguson.
Eickhoff, the previous interim police chief, was skewered by national media and local activists after a June interview with the Los Angeles Times. In the interview, he claimed Ferguson police officers were shot at while trying to recover Brown's body last year. Eickhoff also seemed to dismiss the Department of Justice report that found serious problems with the city's police.
Bynes said she was not sure if Eickhoff's comments to The Times led to the decision to replace him. Either way, she said, the city needed to hire someone far removed from Ferguson politics if it hoped to heal the deep mistrust between police and residents.
"Bless his heart, the police chief (Eickhoff). ... He's kind of been there and wants to take up and defend his force that he's been a part of," she said. "So I think some new blood, some new eyes, some new ears, some new ideas, is what's needed."
Incoming chief Anderson has served in law enforcement for more than 20 years, according to Wednesday's statement. He oversaw homicide, fraud and domestic violence investigations in Glendale, and also served as a member of several undercover task forces with the DEA and FBI, the city said. Anderson graduated from the FBI's National Academy and holds a master's degree in education and leadership from Northern Arizona University, according to his LinkedIn profile.
(c)2015 Los Angeles Times