HARI SREENIVASAN: Coucilman Bell, what's changed in the past year?
WESLEY BELL, FERGUSON, MO. CITY COUNCILMAN: You know, a lot of things. One, I think there's an awareness of these issues, a lot of these social issues that predated Ferguson that are regional, that are national. We're having more conversations about privilege and tensions between law enforcement and some of our communities, particularly our young people. There's a lot of things to be encouraged about, as well.
HARI SREENIVASAN: You've been on the job for a little more than a hundred days or so now. Twice, more than twice the average number of voters showed up to help get you into office in this election cycle. What have you learned?
WESLEY BELL: I've learned that you've got to – you have to engage the residents. You have to get involved because you need to get the residents involved. A community that's engaged can accomplish anything. And keep in mind, with the world watching in Ferguson, if we get it right here, we can set a – a broad example nationally and even internationally of what change can look like.
HARI SREENIVASAN: What has been done over the past year to prevent another Michael Brown-type situation from happening in this community?
WESLEY BELL: I think what we're – I think what we're doing is having those hard conversations. We've had town-hall meetings. We've had – we're implementing community policing, which I've been preaching and screaming from the hills for a while now. We started implementing out. We've even brought experts in to help us with that for our – you know, help us create a model that is appropriate for our city.
We've also hired our new chief. He's the first African-American chief in Ferguson's history. But more importantly, he has a background in community policing as well as with other training – federal – on federal level and things of that nature.
Also with our courts, we have one of the best judges in the state in Judge Donald McCullen, who is heading our courts right now and making sure that everyone is treated fairly. We've repealed a lot of the ordinances, particularly the failure to appear ordinances that were causing a lot of excess fines – excessive fines.
So I think there's a lot going on. And let me be clear: there's no denying the change. There's no denying the progress, I should say. Now having said that, we've still got a lot of work to do.
HARI SREENIVASAN: So you know, the Department of Justice in that report, which I'm sure you've read, pointed to some really deep and systemic problems. They said between 2012 and 2014, every time someone was arrested for resisting arrest, they were black. And now, even with the changes you've made so far, only five of the 50 officers that are on your force are African-American. How do you deal with what might be a much deeper problem in the police department?
WESLEY BELL: Well, as far as the number of police, we can't just fire officers, especially the overwhelming majority of officers who are honest and hard-working. But I think the goal is to recruit and look outside of the traditional ways of recruiting so that we do give everyone an opportunity, which we have. And the council since I've been on has approved funding for scholarships to sponsor officers, preferably minority officers through our department. Because again, it is important that the department better represent the community.
Having said that, we're not looking to bring in officers just for the sake of diversity. It's important – we're not going to – it's important that we don't compromise bringing in quality individuals who have the community's best interest at heart.
HARI SREENIVASAN: You said you still have some work left to do. So what would your constituents say still needs to be done.
WESLEY BELL: I think that trust is to be earned. And so as a result, no matter what changes we do in a couple of months since I've been on the council, you know – I would – even if I was just a – if I wasn't an elected official, I would still want to see a longer sample size, if you will. So I think a lot of residents do see the change and see the progress. But for those who don't, hey, we're going to keep – we're going to keep trying to bring you over to our side and show you what we're doing.
You know, with everything that's happened just a year ago, it would be naive of us to think that oh, in a few months, all will be well and the slate will be clean. No. We got a lot of work to do. And that's why I ran: because I wanted to be a part of that healing process and be a part of the solution.
HARI SREENIVASAN: All right. Wesley Bell, city councilman of Ferguson, Missouri. Thanks so much for joining us.
WESLEY BELL: My pleasure. Thanks for having me.