ST. LOUIS (AP) — St. Louis County police must strengthen policies for handling protests, improve training on diversity and community policing, and do a better job of hiring and promoting minorities and women, according to a report released Friday by the Department of Justice.
It was the third and final federal review stemming from the unrest in Ferguson that followed the fatal shooting last year of 18-year-old Michael Brown. The department’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services examined the nearly 900-officer department at the request of Police Chief Jon Belmar.
The report makes 109 recommendations intended to “make St. Louis (County) a model for the rest of the country,” said COPS office director Ronald Davis.
The Associated Press left messages seeking comment from Belmar on Friday.
Brown, who was black and unarmed, was killed Aug. 9, 2014, during a confrontation with white Ferguson officer Darren Wilson, prompting months of unrest in the St. Louis suburb. Wilson resigned in November, but a grand jury and the Justice Department declined to prosecute him.
The latest assessment found St. Louis County police “to be a competent, professional police department, well trained and disciplined in the technical skills.” And it acknowledged that the events in Ferguson were difficult.
“Before August 2014, St. Louis County had never been challenged with the array of large-scale disturbance issues that it faced after the shooting death of Michael Brown,” the report stated.
It found that county police failed to anticipate the extent of the anger officers would face.
“By not identifying the potential for large-scale violent protests, officers reacted to problems instead of taking a proactive approach to preventing them,” the report stated.
Law enforcement personnel were too quick to deploy rifles and administered tear gas at the protests, the report found. Written policy should govern use of guns and tear gas, the report recommends, adding that tear gas should be used only with the approval of the incident commander, with video documentation, and only after a warning to the crowd.
The report recommended that police include community leaders in response planning and be more open and transparent with the public about those plans. Training manuals should be updated to emphasize ways to de-escalate unrest.
The report indicated that county police learned from mistakes made in August 2014. In preparation for the grand jury announcement three months later, police leaders sought advice from departments across the country and met regularly with community leaders, including many who were active in protests. They became more proactive in use of social media.
When protests broke out after the decision not to indict Wilson, county police took a different approach. The report noted that only officers properly trained in demonstration control were deployed; protective gear was worn only when a threat occurred; a clear chain of command was established.
The report found that while 24 percent of the county’s population is black, African Americans make up just 10 percent of its commissioned officers. Few supervisors are black. It found that women are also under-represented.
The report said recruits are insufficiently instructed in community engagement, diversity, and community policing. Similar concerns were raised about in-service training for active officers.
The report also cited statistics indicating that black drivers are disproportionately pulled over, and recommended further analysis to determine if those stops are warranted.
A DOJ report released in March focused on the city of Ferguson. That report found bias in policing and a profit-driven municipal court system that made money largely at the expense of poor and minority residents. That report prompted the resignations of several officials, including the police chief and municipal judge.
The second report, released last month, evaluated the overall police response to unrest and rioting, finding that it offered lessons in how not to handle mass demonstrations.
(Photo Source: Associated Press)