FERGUSON, Mo. – Frank McCall will readily admit that the Ferguson Department can be a tough place to work.
But he wasn’t looking for an easy job. He was looking to make a difference.
“My foundation is here,” McCall said.
McCall assumed his new job as Ferguson’s chief of police Wednesday night, at a time when Ferguson continues to face challenges following the 2014 shooting of Michael Brown.
Since 2016, the Ferguson Police has been under a consent decree with the U.S. Department of Justice.
It also faces a staffing shortage. Roughly 25 percent of its 45 authorized sworn officer positions are vacant.
“Nationally, law enforcement, we’re struggling right now as a profession,” outgoing Police Chief Jason Armstrong said.
“Then you add in Ferguson, and the history, and what has happened here, a consent decree. We’re (the) only agency in this area with a consent decree. And all the demands and everything it puts on.”
Armstrong joined the department in 2019. He announced he was leaving after accepting a job as a police chief with a department in his home state of North Carolina.
“My parents and my wife’s parents are all back in North Carolina. It was just that opportunity to go back and have that family dynamic. That wasn’t a direct effect on Ferguson,” he said.
“I could have been anywhere in the country as a police chief, currently. And this same opportunity could have come up.”
McCall said he is up to the task to address staffing, the consent decree, and other issues facing the police department.
“Staffing is a priority. And of course, realistically that’s going to take numbers. And that’s going to take quality officers to be here,” he said.
“One thing we won’t do is lower our level of standard for anyone. And so if we have to work a little harder until we get to that level of applicants, then so be it.”
The consent decree has required constant communication between the department and the U.S. Department of Justice. Polices, practices, and procedures all remain under review in the wake of the events from 2014.
Ferguson’s police department has a single designated consent decree coordinator, compared to other departments that have greater manpower.
“We have to identify our identity and be who we are. We’re not Baltimore. We’re not New Orleans. We’re not these other entities that might be under consent decrees. We’re Ferguson,” McCall said.
“So, therefore, we can’t be successful in meeting all our standards with the consent decree with the same methods are ways they did it because they have more resources. So we have to do it our way, with what we have.”
McCall and Armstrong said the consent decree work was in addition to the day-to-day practices of the department.
McCall says with all the challenges, he is ready to help Ferguson move forward.
“I have an excess of 30 years vested in this community in north St. Louis County, as a police officer and as a police chief,” he said.
The veteran law enforcement served as interim chief, after a long tenure with the Berkeley Police Department, where he worked more than 25 years, eight of them as chief.
Armstrong takes issue with criticism that his departure, and those before his, reflect trouble with turnover.
“That’s misleading,” he said. “Ferguson has hired two police chiefs since the Mike Brown incident happened in 2014. That’s it. Now I know the headlines say, six or seven police chiefs – well, Frank is already one of those police chiefs.”