Can we avoid another Ferguson? Justice Dept. report calls for reforms.

An 'after action' report by the Justice Department focuses on the tactics of police from four agencies in their efforts to quell protests in Ferguson, Mo., last year.

Charlie Riedel/AP/File
Police officers watch protesters as smoke fills the streets in Ferguson, Mo., in November 2014 after a grand jury's decision in the fatal shooting of Michael Brown. A final Justice Department report released Thursday warns similar problems could happen in other places roiled by mistrust between law enforcement and the community.

Police forces need more training and other improvements to avoid a repeat of mistakes made in response to last year's race-related protests and riots in Ferguson, Missouri, according to a U.S. Justice Department report issued on Thursday.

The "after action" report represents the final version of a draft summary seen by Reuters in June and is little changed from the earlier document.

The report focuses on the tactics of police from Ferguson, St. Louis, St. Louis County and the Missouri Highway Patrol.

All four agencies were involved in efforts to quell the protests and riots that broke out after a white Ferguson police officer shot and killed Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, on Aug. 9, 2014.

The officer, Darren Wilson, was not charged in the case and the killing set off months of protests about police treatment of minorities that expanded to cities around the country.

St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar said in a statement the report was only a "snapshot" of time and did not reflect actions throughout the months of protest. Belmar said he was "extremely proud" of his officers.

The St. Louis Police Department said it had launched a "community engagement" program and was making other changes due to lessons learned in Ferguson. "What our officers encountered during those first 17 days of unrest has forever changed policing," it said in a statement.

The other agencies did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Thursday.

The report covers event over the 17 days following the shooting and is highly critical of police actions, saying police lacked effective protocols, were not adequately trained, struggled with communication and coordination, and made mistakes that sometimes heightened tensions.

It recommends that law-enforcement agencies protect and provide for protesters to exercise their First Amendment rights to free speech; provide sufficient training on how officers can "de-escalate" tense situations; improve internal and external communications; improve transparency and accessibility for citizen complaints about officer actions.

The use of dogs for crowd control during the Ferguson protests was "inappropriate," inciting fear and anger in the crowd, the report says. It says police were inconsistent in using force and making arrests, and teargas was used inappropriately.

In March, a separate report by the Justice Department documented discriminatory actions by Ferguson police and the small community's municipal court system. That report led to upheaval in the city's leadership. (Reporting by Carey Gillam in Kansas City; Editing by Mohammad Zargham)

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