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Police haven’t improved much since Ferguson, report says

GRAND CENTER – When a man allegedly stole a Spire truck and took it on a joy ride from Shrewsbury to Collinsville and back to St. Louis on Monday, it ended in a non-incident arrest. 

At the point of arrest, detectives drew their guns on the suspect, then one wrestled him to the ground and other officers moved in to hold him down as he was handcuffed. 

The suspect was a black male. The arresting officers were white. 

“Please, don’t shoot him,” a colleague of mine, also white, said while guns were pointed at the suspect. 

The apprehension of a black man – who police said stole a commercial truck, then got out and started walking – didn’t result in national headlines such as, “Another black man killed by a white police officer.” 

Furthermore, law enforcement in their pursuit of the stolen vehicle did not give chase, following state law. And there was no “He pointed a gun at me, so I shot him” report justifying deadly or excessive force. 

There is  something important here to note: The majority of the ordeal played out on live TV, per a News Channel 4 helicopter. Had it not been televised, history suggest that the outcome could have been very different. 

Whether the good, strait-laced police work was forced by the presence of a live camera, or it was organic and unforced, the interaction is the type of observance that Forward Through Ferguson is using to track police reform efforts.  

FTF is a St. Louis-based nonprofit established to be a catalyst for lasting positive change in the St. Louis region. It was born out of the Ferguson Commission, a group of regional leaders tasked by then-Gov. Jay Nixon to work toward reducing racial strife and inequality – circumstances they believe led to the killing of Michael Brown.

About three hours after the televised stolen car incident, the FTF released their second State of Police Reform from their annual State of St. Louis series in a press conference at the Deaconess Center For Child Wellbeing, 1000 North Vandeventer Ave.  

The report found that between 2014 and this year, reform has been minimal and that departments have to be pressured externally to do.

“We’re going to have to do something that we haven’t done before in this region, and it means that we’re going to have to take bold and decisive steps toward co-creating a healed future for all,” said Rebeccah Bennett, co-chair of FTF.

In instances of fleeing suspects, such as the one on Monday, the study found little or no implementation of post-Ferguson recommendations in the city of St. Louis. One of the group’s calls to action was for departments to update their use of force for fleeing suspects. 

The study focused on three police departments: the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department, the Ferguson Police Department and the North County Police Cooperative.

Ferguson, in the study’s summary, was found to have “policy-focused implementation activity that seems to be leading to culture/systems change.” 

The group was “unsure” about NCPC’s fleeing update. 

City police scored as only slightly improved in their call to revise use of force policies and training. The department, on its call to establish a use-of-force database, scored the equivalent of a C grade. 

Overall, FTF summarized that because SLMPD has a larger leadership structure – mayor, chief and public safety director – it leads to particularly complex dynamics that often preclude a strong, consistent and clear commitment to one platform. 

As well, it has a nearly constant flux of legal action both spurring and slowing change; and an often oppositional police union, a widely known and documented critique. 

As recent as yesterday, the union, the St. Louis Police Officers Association, posted a racist, sarcastic and insensitive tweet. “The drum beat continues,” the poster scoffed in response to a African-American man and woman found shot in Midtown, near St. Louis University. 

In Africa, the drumbeat holds a deeper, symbolic and historical meaning and also stirred passion and excitement in warriors about to do battle. 

Donald Moore, a city resident who attended the FTF press conference, made mention of social media posts by police officers, and a 2006 FBI report that states that white supremacists were infiltrating police departments across the country. 

“There is a good amount of evidence that shows there are equally biased individuals working within our systems of law enforcement,” responded Karishma Furtado, research and data analyst for FTF. 

“Many of the people that we spoke to within law enforcement said that they had a pipeline issue and that they recognized that training wasn’t going to fix people, that you had to be sure you were putting the right people in uniform to begin with; and that is a tough spot that our institutions of law enforcement have not figured out yet.” 

FTF will have three upcoming town hall meetings that will be posted on their website, forwardthroughfergurson.org. The full report is also available there.

Bill Beene

bill.beene@thenorthsider.com Bill Beene was born and raised in north St. Louis. He has been a journalist for 12 years. He enjoys cooking and roller skating. He lives in the historic Ville neighborhood.

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