AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
It's official. The police chief of Ferguson, Missouri, is out. The announcement came from the city's mayor late today.
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JAMES KNOWLES III: The chief's resignation is effective March 19, 2015. This was a mutual decision both by the chief of police and the city's administration.
CORNISH: Police Chief Tom Jackson will be replaced by the assistant chief. Jackson is just the latest Ferguson official to step down in the wake of a Department of Justice report which found a pattern of unconstitutional policing. Rachel Lippmann of St. Louis Public Radio was at a news conference announcing Jackson's resignation, and she joins us now. And Rachel, what does the city of Ferguson say actually prompted the police chief's resignation?
RACHEL LIPPMANN, BYLINE: The city of Ferguson Mayor James Knowles said that he believed Thomas Jackson was an honorable man who believed that he would do what was right for the city in deciding to resign.
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KNOWLES: After a lot of soul searching - and it is very hard for him to leave and for us to have him leave. He felt that this was the best way forward.
CORNISH: Rachel, what does this mean, though, for the department as a whole? I mean, will this move save it from possibly being dismantled?
LIPPMANN: It's unclear right now if the departure of Jackson would be enough to save the department from being dismantled. Mayor Knowles indicated many, many times throughout the press conference that Ferguson wants to hold onto its police department. They believe they can make the improvements necessary, do what the Department of Justice calls for, change some of their policies to hold on to the Ferguson Police Department as an entity. He made that very clear. That’s something that they want. It's not as easy as people think to dismantle the police department in Missouri. As far as I know, there is no state mechanism by which to do it. A lot of people have talked about St. Louis County, which is the main police department in this area - one of the main police departments - coming in and taking over policing in Ferguson. But a police services contract would have to be a decision by both the city and the county, and as Knowles made it very clear today, that’s not something he’s willing to do.
They are looking at the Department of Justice reports. They say they will be making the changes and that they can do what is necessary to retain an independent police department.
CORNISH: Tom Jackson's resignation has been a main goal of protesters since the beginning. What have you heard from them?
LIPPMANN: A lot of them are saying, as they did with the Department of Justice report, this is going to be too little too late. We don't need the department of justice report to tell us what is going on - that they are a figurehead. I spoke to one protester, Chrissy Nelson (ph), who says that she believes a new chief could bring a lot of change to the department - that they have a lot of authority to do so, and could bring in a different culture - one that respects the residents of Ferguson, one that encourages officers to get out into the community. But she says she doesn’t trust the leadership in this city of James Knowles and whoever else is left to make the right decision and hire the right chief. Knowles himself said today he will not be stepping down. As he put it, you need someone to run the city because everyone else has left. A local activist organization here says they will be backing a recall effort on Knowles if he does not step down by Friday.
CORNISH: That's Rachel Lippmann of St. Louis Public Radio. Rachel, thanks so much.
LIPPMANN: Thank you, Audie.
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