When demonstrations broke out in the St. Louis County suburb of Ferguson last year after a white police officer fatally shot an unarmed black 18-year-old, the St. Louis County Police Department was ill-prepared to respond, lacking an understanding of the strain between the police and the community, according to a federal assessment released Friday.
The police took actions that escalated tensions and infringed upon protesters’ constitutional rights, the report by the U.S. Justice Department found. And though the police department improved its response months later when a grand jury declined to indict the officer, it still needed to strengthen its relationship with and understanding of the community, according to the report.
The 182-page report, coming more than a year after the death of Michael Brown, was completed at the request of the county’s police chief, Jon Belmar. His request came as concerns mounted that the Ferguson Police Department and other municipal forces in St. Louis County were overly aggressive in ticketing people to generate revenue, eroding trust within the community.
Federal officials found, among other things, that the county police needed to:
▪ Improve recruitment and hiring practices to get more minority representation.
▪ More thoroughly investigate all episodes in which officers use force.
▪ Emphasize implicit bias and fair and impartial police training to guard against racial profiling during traffic stops.
▪ Improve training for handling mass demonstrations and community engagement.
“While particularly proficient in the area of tactical operations, the department lacks the training, leadership and culture necessary to truly engender community policing and to build and sustain trusting relationships with the community,” the report said.
The police response to the grand jury announcement and other protests was hampered by inconsistent direction from leaders, deficiencies in communication within the agency and between agencies, and the integration of assistance from other municipal forces “each with disparate missions, policies, training, equipment and policing cultures,” the report said.