OpinionPolice AccountabilityThe Jaco Report

The Jaco Report, Ep. 23: Psych tests, licenses and firings — Cures for racism among police?

Upset with what they see as a flaccid City Hall response to a barrage of racist and violent Facebook posts by current and former St. Louis police officers, critics of police racism — a state senator, a black police organization’s attorney, and a Washington University scholar of racist policing — are proposing specific solutions to the problem of bigotry in the St. Louis police department ranks: aggressive psychological screenings, state licensing, and immediate dismissal of officers who exhibit racial or ethnic prejudice.

The three critics appeared on The Jaco Report after a week in which a series of articles in The Northsider/Southsider and MetroSTL.com first revealed that 461 Facebook posts by current or former St. Louis Metropolitan Police officers had been flagged as racist, violent, or prejudiced by The Plain View Project as part of a study of eight police departments nationwide. The critics were unanimous in their skepticism of measures announced so far by Director of Public Safety Jimmie Edwards and Mayor Lyda Krewson.

Edwards has said all members of the police department will undergo “sensitivity training,” starting with sergeants next week. Krewson has announced that the sensitivity training will be expanded to all city employees.

All three critics said a vague, lukewarm response was insufficient.

“Sensitivity training is not defined, we don’t know who’s behind it and how deep it’s going to go,” said Rufus Tate, chief attorney for the Ethical Society of Police, an African-American police organization that has filed a formal complaint against 13 of the white current officers identified as having made the Facebook posts. “Any sensitivity training that does not include, in my estimation, psychological evaluations, maybe twice a year, is not useful.”

State Sen. Karla May, whose 4th District includes half of the city and who has been a fierce critic of police officers who posted racist and white supremacist memes, agreed that psychological screening for city police officers was inadequate.

“When the police first start going through training, they have one mental health evaluation,” said May, who introduced a bill in the last legislative session to require drug testing and psychological examinations of every officer who shoots someone. “But you have officers who’ve been on the job 30 years with no mental health evaluation.”

Robert Motley, a researcher at Washington University’s Brown School of Social Work who has studied racial animus among police officers who work in low-income minority communities, agreed that regular, in-depth psychological screenings should be required. But he also proposed that all police officers be licensed by the state of Missouri, the same as doctors, lawyers and beauticians.

“They (police officers) are providing social services to the individuals that they’re protecting in the communities,” Motley said. “So for them not to have to have a license, and be able to police themselves, that gives them more ammunition to get away with a lot of the things we see happening.”

May agreed that self-policing by the St. Louis police department had given racist officers a safe haven, and she proposed the ultimate penalty for all officers found to have posted racist or bigoted material: immediate firing.

“This has to stop, and these people need to be fired,” May said.  “Because you can’t police, there’s no way in the world you can be called upon to police a people and discriminate against any demographic of that people.”

Charles Jaco

Charles Jaco is a journalist and author. He has worked for NBC News, CNN, KMOX, KTRS, and Fox 2. He is best known for his coverage of the first Gulf War, and for his "legitimate rape" interview with Senate candidate Todd Akin. He is the winner of three George Foster Peabody Awards, and the author of four books.

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