Police actions which included the use of armoured vehicles and dogs in an effort to restore order in Ferguson following the police shooting of a black teenager in the St Louis suburb only fuelled tensions, the US justice department said.
In a damning report nearly 200 pages long, the DOJ yesterday condemned city, county and state police for inconsistent, inappropriate and overly reactive strategies in dealing with the protests that erupted in Ferguson, Missouri following the fatal shooting of Michael Brown in August last year.
Brown's killing made Ferguson the epicentre of an outcry against perceived police violence towards African Americans that continues more than a year later.
The justice department's own response to the shooting continues as well, and it said yesterday's report comes after it determined there was a need to investigate the police response in Ferguson and the public outcry against it.
It was intended to "determine if actions could be taken to improve situations like (the Ferguson police response) in the future." More than 110 "lessons learned" were identified.
"The Ferguson (Police Department) had virtually no established community relationships with the residents of Canfield Green apartments, where Mr. Brown was killed, or with much of the African-American community in Ferguson," the report said, summing up what it deemed one of its most critical findings.
It also said the use of police force was sometimes inappropriate during the 17 days it examined between Brown's death and his funeral. "The use of canines for crowd control in Ferguson was an inappropriate and ineffective strategy.
Canine use should be narrowly limited," the DOJ said, noting that using dogs on crowds in the racially fraught situation was particularly troubling due to dogs' use against civil rights protesters in the 1950s and 60s.
It also criticised the use of tear gas without appropriate warnings or considerations of protesters' ability to get away and took particular issue with the use of military-type equipment, which the report said "inflamed tensions and created fear among demonstrators."
"While a tactical response was warranted at times during the Ferguson demonstrations because of threats to public safety... The elevated daytime response was not justified and served to escalate rather than de-escalate the overall situation," the justice department said.