They were dispatched to Seattle in 2010 after police shot and killed a Native American woodcarver. They were sent to the 2009 Oakland protests sparked by Oscar Grant’s shooting death. And then to Sanford, Florida, in 2012 after protests erupted in the wake of Trayvon Martin’s killing. They’ve been in the St. Louis area since even before Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson shot and killed Michael Brown. And they’re in Ferguson now, a team of under-the-radar federal mediators known as the Community Relations Service, overseen by the Department of Justice, who are sent to the scene of bubbling racial conflicts.

This weekend the St. Louis Post-Dispatch explored the limits and powers of the agency, which operates under a cloak of privacy and secrecy. As in: minimal contact with press, closed door community meetings, and peacekeeping but no investigative authority. 

The Post-Dispatch’s David Hunn reports:

[I]ts goal, said Director Grande H. Lum in an interview last week with the Post-Dispatch, isn’t to make arrests or file lawsuits, but to give all sides a private place to talk, and, hopefully, solve their own problems.

“Those are the longest-lasting solutions – when the people themselves resolve their own disputes,” Lum said. His unit, he said, allows “people to speak.”

Lum wouldn’t discuss the details of his agency’s work in Ferguson. He said mediators are trained to identify underlying causes, parties involved, and those who need to be included.

“We are going to be there,” Lum said, “as long as it is needed.”

That could be a very long time. Read the rest of the Post-Dispatch story.