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No Federal Charges Expected Against Darren Wilson


We begin this hour in Washington, where mayors and police chiefs from all over the country met today to talk about rebuilding trust with minority communities. The conversation came as a Justice Department investigation of a white police officer in the shooting death of a black man in Ferguson, Missouri winds down. Law enforcement sources say no charges are expected against the officer who shot 18-year-old Michael Brown. With us to talk about the issues is NPR justice correspondent Carrie Johnson.

And Carrie, what are you hearing about why federal prosecutors are moving to end the investigation of Darren Wilson?

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: The FBI and federal prosecutors and civil rights investigators have been reviewing hundreds of witness statements and physical evidence from that scene in Ferguson. But they've said all along, Audie, there's a very high bar. In order to bring criminal civil rights charges, they would need to prove that that officer, Darren Wilson, knowingly used excessive force when he shot unarmed black man Michael Brown last summer. And prosecutors just apparently cannot meet that bar, law enforcement sources are telling me. They're wrapping up the investigation now. Eventually they're going to release a written report to explain to the public the decision, the rationale behind their findings. And this report is not imminent, despite some news reports overnight otherwise. Authorities tell me though, there is a part of this investigation that's very much ongoing. That relates to possible discriminatory policing practices within the Ferguson police force. They've been looking at traffic stop data, hiring, training and other things with an eye toward eventually getting a court-enforceable agreement to change how Ferguson cops operate.

CORNISH: Meanwhile, Attorney General Eric Holder has called for more data on police-involved shootings nationwide. Is that a recognition that there's not enough public information about how often this happens?

JOHNSON: For sure. One of the things to come out of this Ferguson tragedy is that reporting about police shootings is voluntary now, and many police agencies just don't bother to do it. The ones that do sometimes use a different counting method, funny math, so the numbers are all over the place. And the attorney general, Eric Holder, says we need Congress to weigh in and require state and local police to do some kind of consistent form of reporting whenever police-involved shootings occur, but it's not that simple, Audie. He also wants something else. He also wants better data on how many times police are targets of violence by civilians. He says that's an important part of the conversation we shouldn't miss. And in part, there's been a lot of controversy from police forces all over the country about how Holder and President Obama have responded to Ferguson. So this may be a step in that direction.

CORNISH: So many of these issues revolve around local governments and local law enforcement. What are mayors saying about this?

JOHNSON: There was a big conference in Washington today of the U.S. Conference of Mayors. They were talking about community policing. And I spoke with a co-chair of a commission there. Her name is Karen Freeman-Wilson. She's the mayor of Gary, Indiana. She told me mayors are used to responding, turning up at the scenes of crimes and fires. And mayors need to use those skills when it comes to community policing, too. She says that this problem and the solution to it involves not just police and mayors, but also business leaders in a community and clergy, and people who go door-to-door knowing the citizens, block-to-block. She says the only way to ease some of this mistrust of law enforcement is to communicate and make sure investigations of police are independent and transparent.

CORNISH: That's NPR's justice correspondent, Carrie Johnson. Carrie, thank you.

JOHNSON: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Carrie Johnson is a justice correspondent for the Washington Desk.