Missouri should amend the state’s use-of-deadly-force laws, limit the public release of video from police officers’ body-worn cameras and provide scholarships to encourage more minorities to become peace officers, the attorney general’s office announced Friday.
“With these recommendations, I believe we have an opportunity to address many issues to improve relations of law enforcement and the communities they serve,” Attorney General Chris Koster said in a written statement.
The lack of minority officers was chief among the complaints levied in Ferguson, Mo., after a white police officer fatally shot an unarmed black teenager in August. Two-thirds of Ferguson’s residents are African-American; nearly all of the department’s officers are white.
Koster convened meetings in October in Kansas City and St. Louis after news articles in The Kansas City Star and St. Louis Post-Dispatch highlighted the low numbers of African-Americans and other minorities in Missouri’s urban and large suburban police departments.
The goal, Koster said, was “to identify barriers to minority participation in law enforcement and discuss areas for opportunity. This is one way the frustration expressed on the streets of Missouri’s urban areas can bring positive change in the policing of our communities.”
State law that details when an officer can use deadly force is too broad and should mirror what the U.S. Supreme Court allows, according to one of Koster’s six recommendations.
As for body cameras, Koster suggested that safeguards be added to the state’s open records law to protect the privacy of police officers and civilians. Those would limit what video the public could obtain. Federal and state legislation has been introduced that would provide incentives for agencies to equip officers with cameras.
On the recruitment front, Koster wants Missouri to provide scholarships to minorities and finance training for 300 new peace officers from low-income communities.
▪ Require law enforcement agencies to comply with state limitations on revenue generated from traffic tickets and court costs, and to accurately report the revenue data to the state in a timely way. Koster said his office recently sued 17 municipalities for violations.
▪ Have the state track the number of minority peace officers hired each year statewide.
▪ Create a task force to review traffic stops, the data collected about them and penalties levied for noncompliance with state reporting rules.
Kansas City Police Chief Darryl Forté said he agreed with most of the recommendations, but said police departments should continue to find ways to improve communications and relations within their communities. Forté also said Kansas City and other large police departments across the state are able to recruit women and minorities, but retaining those officers continues to be a challenge.
“It is bigger than the recruiting piece, but also about how people are treated once they are inside the organization,” he said.
African-Americans, who make up 13 percent of the U.S. population, accounted for about 12 percent of the full-time officers working for police departments nationally in 2007, according to the U.S. Justice Department. However, most of them worked in the nation’s largest cities, the statistics show.
Missouri has more than 14,000 law enforcement officers.
Police agencies said they often struggle to identify, recruit and retain minorities. A job fair held in November to help Kansas City area police departments recruit more minorities drew about a dozen potential candidates.
Organizers said they plan to hold another event later this year.
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