Gov. Jay Nixon wants law enforcement officers across Missouri to be better trained on how to respond to dangerous situations, avoid racial profiling and take care of themselves.
Nixon announced his peace officer training goals at Kansas City police headquarters Thursday — three days before the one-year anniversary of the police shooting of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. While a grand jury and U.S. justice officials maintained Darren Wilson did nothing wrong, civil rights activists and others questioned the officer’s use of deadly force.
“Events here in Missouri and across the country have prompted a national dialogue about the need to build greater trust between law enforcement officers and the communities they protect and serve,” Nixon said.
Many law enforcement agencies nationwide, including Kansas City’s, already teach their officers how to delay or even prevent shootings by backing away or finding cover until other officers arrive.
Officers also must be trained to use critical thinking and problem-solving skills to avoid racial or cultural profiling as well as situations where they may have to shoot someone who is threatening them, Nixon said.
“On any given day, they face challenges that demand toughness, discipline and courage, but also the compassion of a counselor, the legal acumen of a lawyer and the discernment of a negotiator,” he said.
Nixon has directed Lane Roberts, the state’s public safety director, and the Peace Officers Standards and Training Commission to convene a series of meetings across the state to receive input from citizens, law enforcement, educators and advocacy groups on ways to update and improve officer training. Those recommendations are due to Nixon by Dec. 1.
Missouri has the same continuing education standards that were in place in 1996 in terms of mandated hours and the types of training that an officer must receive on an ongoing basis. Nixon wants officers to receive additional training on an annual basis.
“Clearly, there has been a great deal of attention on Missouri over the last year, and I feel we have an obligation to stand up and lead,” Nixon said. “We have a responsibility to set an example, and we are prepared to do just that.”
Kansas City Police Chief Darryl Forté said he agreed with Nixon’s proposal to improve community relations, officer training and well-being.
“If you look at what we are doing and what we have done, we are already ahead of the curve on the three theme points,” Forté said. “For anybody who has been paying attention, it is something that is needed.”
Nixon also appointed five new members to the state’s Peace Officer Standards and Training Commission. Locally, they include the Rev. Emanuel Cleaver III, senior pastor of St. James United Methodist Church, and Sgt. Jeffery Hughley, a supervisor with the Kansas City street crimes and gang unit. Riverside Police Chief Greg Mills will continue to serve on the statewide commission.
The commission sets standards for police training and continuing education for officers. It also oversees police training academies and their instructors.
Changes are needed in the way police are trained to interact with diverse communities, Mills said.
“There are problems that have been identified and spotlight is on, and it is our job to make sure we get police training and response brought up to speed,” he said.
Nixon traveled to St. Louis and Springfield on Thursday and made similar announcements.