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Tap here to turn on desktop notifications to get the news sent straight to you. His left hand was on a gun in his waistband and his right hand was holding a cellphone. But this night was different. As the agitated man refused to put down his weapon, a commander on the scene came up with a plan. As an officer distracted the distressed man and kept him engaged in conversation, two others snuck around to the back of the house, Tasers drawn.
After the man tucked the weapon in his waistband to smoke a cigarette, they made their move. The man heard them coming, and turned toward the approaching officers. One deployed his electronic weapon, and they took him down. The unrest in Ferguson and the aggressive and unconstitutional police response to protests ushered in a new era of media scrutiny of law enforcement.
Meanwhile, in the city of St. Louis and in the dozens of municipalities throughout St. Louis County, law enforcement is operating, essentially, under the status quo, buttressed by political leaders in the state and the knowledge that U.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions is hostile toward opening up any new investigations of unconstitutional practices in local policing. In Ferguson, one of the smallest jurisdictions to face a federal investigation of its policing practices, the question being tested is straightforward: Can federal intervention make local law enforcement better?
Within Ferguson, even among some original skeptics of the consent decree, the answer is a cautious yes. The city still has thousands upon thousands of old warrants out against individuals over old municipal court cases it still needs to review to follow through on the consent decree. A few officers who have been accused of excessive force still remain on the Ferguson police force. The department is still a few bodies short of its target size. But two-and-a-half years after the initial DOJ report, policing in Ferguson looks better than it does in other parts of the St.
That contrast has recently been on stark display. For more than a month, in fact, the St. Louis region has been grappling with near-daily protests over the not guilty verdict in the trial of Jason Stockley, the white ex-cop was charged with murder in the killing of Anthony Lamar Smith, a black man fleeing a drug stop.
Since that not guilty verdict, the police reaction to demonstrations in and around St. The acting police chief in St.
A police union solicited the harassment of a local businessman who was critical of police tactics. Louis County, officers roughly arrested nearly two dozen activists at a suburban shopping mall.
More than people were arrested in a single night last week after demonstrators blocked a highway. In all, there have been more than protest-related arrests. Now, a lawyer representing Ferguson was introducing five top city officials in the audience, all of them African-American: Attorney General Jeff Sessions is generally opposed to federal intervention in local police departments.
Sessions has long expressed worry about the impact that consent decrees could have on police officer morale, and said the lawsuits themselves could undermine respect for law enforcement agencies. Dominica Fuller of the Ferguson Police Department is one of just three black officers who were with the force during the unrest who are still with the Ferguson Police Department.
Ferguson Police Sergeant Dominica Fuller agreed that the criticism of her department was a bit tough to absorb. As a minority officer with two degrees and experience, she says, she could be making more money elsewhere in the region. In an interview with HuffPost at the Ferguson Police Department, Fuller said she was shocked by the racist emails that the DOJ investigation uncovered from the co-workers she interacted with on a daily basis, including her boss.
They were adamant that the city had been unfairly maligned after a justifiable shooting. But she said the city has been moving forward and was working hard to implement change. Jones is hopeful that Ferguson can serve as a model police department for others municipalities in the region.
And the process is being overseen by an independent monitor, and a federal judge holds hearings to get an update on the progress. That judicial oversight offers some protection to the agreement, because it makes it much more difficult for the Trump administration to make drastic changes to the deal or to suddenly back out altogether. He declined to say whether the DOJ had made any changes in their handling of the Ferguson consent decree.
Fuller, the veteran Ferguson officer, she thinks the process is headed down the right path. And despite some changes, many of the dozens of small municipalities in the region continue to rely heavily on their officers drumming up revenue through tickets and municipal courts.
The fractured governmental structure in St. Today, that fractured structure makes it difficult to implement change on a wide scale. As a result, the city of St. But the road to change has been rocky there, too.
Louis has one of the highest rates of violent crime in the country. That fact makes police reform particularly difficult, and many politicians are hesitant to say anything that could be portrayed as anti-police.
Megan Ellyia Green, a St. Louis alderwoman representing the 15th Ward who has been involved in the protest movement, said that many politicians in St. Louis are fearful of repercussions if they are seen as critical of the police department. When there are significant political hurdles to implementing changes to policing, a federal investigation into a law enforcement agency can actually present an opportunity merely by offering up the federal government as a ready-made scapegoat.
The feds can force a police department to make changes that would represent career suicide for local politicians. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson speaks at a press conference after the Stockley verdict last month.
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Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson was thinking when she wrote the U. Louis, asking the federal government to investigate the well-documented incidents of excessive force that police inflicted upon demonstrators in the past month.
No one really had high expectations that Krewson would serve as an agent of change for policing in St. She was endorsed by the St. Krewson got into politics 20 years ago, after her husband was killed in an attempted carjacking outside their home. Krewson won the Democratic primary over St. Jones ran on what she called a smart-on-crime policy agenda and believes the city is struggling with crime because it tries to address only the symptoms rather than the underlying causes, like poverty.
Louis Metropolitan Police Department, an ongoing search that began that day she took office in April and the former chief resigned. It will be the first time in modern history that the mayor of St.
Louis actually gets to pick a police chief. The city of St. Louis has had control of its own police force only for four years , since August For years, Missouri held the reins of the St. Louis in charge of their own police force. The state had joined the union in under the Missouri Compromise, whereby, until the Kansas-Nebraska Act three decades later, it remained the only state north of the Mason-Dixon line that could hold slaves.
Last week, Krewson attended a panel at Harris-Stowe State University, a historically black university, to discuss issues such as how protests could be turned into action.
She shared the stage with Missouri State Rep. Louis battle rapper who got involved in the Ferguson protests and then ran for office and has been on the front lines of the protests since the Stockley verdict last month. But she was often shouted down by members of the audience, who chanted demands for the firing of acting St. Krewson wound up speaking very little throughout the night. Afterward, Franks asked demonstrators to gather outside, where they once again took to the streets.
But Gardner, has faced high rates of turnover since she took over the office. Betts, who spent most of his career as a teacher and in the corporate world, said people would often ask him during the campaign what kind of experience he had in law enforcement.
He found the question funny. But Betts has very limited duties in that role, which in St. Louis is only in charge of court security, the transportation of prisoners, and the serving of court papers. Shortly after a judge delivered the not guilty verdict against the former officer last month, HuffPost caught up with Betts by the steps of the courthouse.
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But he seemed a bit somber now that the verdict actually came down. I feel a little nauseated right now about the whole thing. We live in America, you know racism is … well I better not go there. But I feel terrible. Betts retired after 30 years at an electric company, but he says he got bored and decided to get a job. The former sheriff fired him.
Betts lost the election in , but won in The low salaries his office can offer are a major hurdle to getting the quality employees he wants, Betts said. The rookie cop with the big grin who is working in a less fraught police department.