Report: County Police Had Poor Response to Ferguson Protests
According to a new report, the St. Louis County Police Department wasn’t prepared for the mass demonstrations that followed the fatal police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson in August 2014, as it underperformed in community policing as well as other areas.
On Friday, the Depart of Justice’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) released a 182-page report “Collaborative Reform Initiative: An Assessment of the St. Louis County Police Department (SLCPD).” The Police Foundation (PF) assessed andreviewed departmental policies, manuals, training lesson plans andstrategic plans and interviewedmore than 200 people.
The findingsidentified recruiting, training and operational deficiencies, in addition to alarming racial profile data, lack of trust between partsof the community and the department and lack of training for mass demonstrations.
Assessments in Key Areas:
Communication and Community Engagement
Following the shooting death of Brown, a number of high-level officials, some in law enforcement, have resigned and been replaced. The report states that in order to develop the department’s community policing program, the chief and his senior command team have reached out to local clergy and community leaders and engaged them in conversations and meetings.
However, the department does not invest sufficient resources in community engagement and problem solving; it places high emphasis on tactical skills over community policing. Approximately 6.8 percent of commissioned officers had experience with the SWAT team; over 25 percent of those who were promoted had TAC/SWAT experience.
The assessment team observed a “lack of understanding, appreciation, and application of creative problem solving as it relates to community policing.”
The department needs to develop a comprehensive communication strategy for SLCPD personnel and community partners that will serve to increase transparency about SLCPD police practices.
The department does not have policies or training to ensure de-escalation options are exhausted before using tactical responses in mass protests and demonstrations. Policies, practices, trainings and responses for handling protests and mass demonstrations “must be strengthened.”
The department also needs to improve its recruitment, selection and hiring processes. The SLCPD does not currently represent the diversity of the population it serves.
St. Louis County residents are 69.9 percent white, 23.9 percent Black, 4 percent Asian, 2.7 percent Latino. According to the report, though, 87.1 percent of officers in the SLCPD are white. Black officers make up 10 percent of the department, while just 2.9 percent of officers “represent other minority racial or ethnic groups.”
The department remains under representative of the community in the ranks of lieutenant and captain as well. Blacks are significantly under-represented in the commissioned ranks of police officer and police sergeant.
Women are also under-represented in all ranks of the department. Of the 13 SLCPD captains, only one is female. The department has 26 male lieutenants and just three female lieutenants. The assessment team also noted the lack of inclusion of female leadership in all executive-level meetings between the assessment team and the SLCPD.
One recommendation from the report was to create a diversity council representing gender, ethnic, racial, LGBT and linguistic minorities “to serve as advisors and champions for the chief and SLCPD command staff to support recruitment efforts focused on youth, newcomer populations, and gender diversity.”
In a five-year analysis of traffic stops, significant statistical racial disparities exist in stops and searches that warrant further investigation by the department. In 2010, Black drivers were subject to searches 72 percent more often than white drivers.
While the percentage of Black drivers searched relative to white drivers declined from 2010 to 2013, Black drivers were still subject to more searches than white drivers. In 2014, Black drivers were searched 59 percent more often than white drivers. On average, 67.2 percent of Black drivers were issued a citation as a result of the stop, compared to 64.7 percent of white drivers.
“Identifying a specific explanation for this disparity is beyond the scope of this analysis,” the authors wrote.
Recommendations include that the SLCPD should train all supervisors and executive-level staff responsible for the interpretation of stop data in research methods necessary to “adequately review and identify potentially biased behavior,” as well as to improve the process quality for traffic stops and searches to prohibit racial profiling.
The SLCPD doesn’t require sufficient mandated in-service training that addresses community engagement, diversity competence or community policing.
The authors note the St. Louis County and Municipal Police Academy (CMPA) curriculum should be modified to include themes relating to “police legitimacy, procedural justice, fair and impartial policing, community policing and building community trust that can be woven into all academy classes.” And all instructors authorized to teach at CMPA should complete courses in those areas as well.
Use of Force
Data wasprovided by the SLCPD on the number of use of force incidents involving officers from 200913. Its use of force percentage, .07, is about half as much as the national average of 1.4 percent. The most frequent type of force used was physical restraint.
In the PF’s assessment of officers involved in use of force, 89 percent were identified as white, 9.3 percent as Black, and 0.5 percent as Latino. Officers involved in use of force had an average age of 32 and had been on the force for an average of 5.7 years. By comparison, the department 2013 average age of officers was 38 with 10 years on the job.
However, the analysis also found the department does not thoroughly investigate the use of deadly force in all situations.
“As with any critical analysis, we will evaluate the recommendations, and move forward,” St. Louis County Police Chief John Belmar said about the report in a written statement.
In 2014, Belmar asked COPS to help identify ways the department could improve its relationship with the community. Since Brown’s death, the DOJ has commissioned reports, which have brought to light flaws in police practices in Ferguson and the county.
In March, the DOJ released a disturbing report citing a pattern of unconstitutional law enforcement practices as well as a practice of racial biasin both the police department in Ferguson and municipal court.
The new report has a total of 109 recommendations for improvement with respect to industry best practices.The COPS office will work with the SLCPD to implement the recommendations. During the next one-and-a-half years, two progress reports will follow to provide updates on the status of follow through on the recommendations.