Ferguson Police meet up with protesters

Ferguson Police meet up with protesters on the sixth anniversary of the fatal shooting of 18-year old Michael Brown by Ferguson Police officer Darren Wilson in front of the police station Sun. Aug. 9, 2020. Photo by Wiley Price / St. Louis American

Missouri’s Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) Commission has voted to require annual training in de-escalation techniques and recognizing implicit bias for all Missouri law enforcement officers. Starting in 2022, Missouri officers will take a one-hour course in each area as part of their required 24-hours of annual continuing education training.

Advocates for police accountability and reform received the news with skepticism and, not surprisingly, suggestions for much more sweeping reform.

“An hour isn’t enough,” said Heather Taylor, president of the Ethical Society of Police (ESOP).

“These courses should have been mandatory before this. Also, they should be given before the recruits enter the police academy to try to weed some of them out before they become sworn officers. They receive this training in the academy, but it must be given before, during, and after with the option of removal when they exhibit red flags.”

Blake A. Strode, executive director of ArchCity Defenders, agreed with Taylor.

“These steps are both long overdue and woefully inadequate,” Strode said. “The idea that our policing problems can be solved with two hours of training is absurd.”

John Chasnoff, co-chair of the Coalition Against Police Crimes and Repression (CAPCR), put the proposed changes in the context of the tone set nationally by President Trump.

“These changes come at time when the president of the United States is saying that exploration of implicit bias is un-American. His comments encourage officers to ignore such trainings, and I doubt they will have much impact,” Chasnoff said. 

“De-escalation training needs to be more than an hour training per year. Instead, it needs to be an integral part of drastically revised use-of-force continuums that put the public's safety first.”

Governor Mike Parson, a former sheriff, took credit for the reforms by saying the commission responded to a challenge he had issued “to take a leading role in advancing the training Missouri provides its officers and equip them to improve relations with the public.”

The governor appoints members to the commission. Of the 11 slots, three are currently vacant. Only one of the 11 slots is dedicated to a member of the public who is not affiliated with law enforcement. That sole public representative, Emanuel Cleaver III, is one of only two African Americans on the commission. The other is Lincoln University Police Chief Gary Hill.

The commission currently is chaired by Platte County Sheriff Mark Owen. The population of Platte County is 85.7% white, according to U.S. Census estimates.

The commission also voted unanimously to grant preliminary approval for Lincoln University’s proposal to establish a law enforcement basic training academy. (Chief Hill of Lincoln University abstained from the vote.) The proposed training academy would be the nation’s first at a Historically Black College and University. Lincoln University said the academy could have a far-reaching impact as it seeks to attract minority law enforcement recruits to a residential program at an academic institution.

Licensing of a Lincoln University academy by the Missouri Department of Public Safety (DPS) could come only after a site visit and review of planned policies and procedures, proposed courses, lesson plans, instructor qualifications, and the academy’s advisory board. The POST Commission would then make a final recommendation to DPS on whether to grant the license.

Police accountability and reform advocates found fault and limitations with this proposal as well.

“Minority recruitment isn’t a problem in St. Louis city,” said Taylor of ESOP, who recently retired from the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department. “The majority of all applications are Black St. Louis city residents. Black applicants face overwhelming odds with hiring. A lot of it is bias. Furthermore, recruiters aren’t even trained in explicit/implicit biases with hiring.” 

Strode of ArchCity Defenders said that “hiring a few more Black officers into a structurally racist system” won’t solve the problems the governor and commission claim to be addressing.

“What we need is a commitment to real consequences for routine police abuse and disparate treatment,” Strode said, “and a major reallocation of funds away from police departments and into community-based services and resources so that we can reduce the role of policing in our lives.”

The POST Commission also appointed two committees to work on two other proposals: developing a course of instruction for Missouri’s basic training academies on the history of policing and minority community relations, including the origins of policing in the United States; and exploring ways to require law enforcement agencies to check with Missouri’s POST program on an applicant’s past history as an officer before hiring experienced officers. The commission tentatively scheduled a special meeting on December 15 to review the committees’ work.

As required by state statute, the new POST rules will be filed with the Missouri Secretary of State and the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules and subject to a public comment period. The rule-making process generally takes at least six months to complete. The new training requirement will apply to officers in 2022.

Chasnoff of CAPCR is not exactly waiting hopefully. “These are examples of ineffective reforms,” he said, “that strengthen our resolve to defund the police."

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