The Nevada Progressive asks today about the evident lack of concern for background checks, and the evaluation of prior service records in the Ferguson, Missouri, police department — it’s a valid question. It’s also a valid question in any inquiry into patterns and practices in many law enforcement agencies in the St. Louis County area. For that matter, the issue should be raised in other regions as well.
There are, as mentioned before, about 91 separate jurisdictions in St. Louis County. Some are too small to operate their own police forces and rely on St. Louis County to provide them. This includes several “North of the Delmar Divide.” [St.L PD] The current situation leaves about 50+ jurisdictions, of varying sizes and resources, to provide their own police departments — Ferguson is thus one of many.
A Question of Money
The city of Chesterfield, organized in 1988, is southwest of Ferguson. Its 83 police officers serve a community which is 86.5% white, has a median income of $96,851, and median value housing units of $329,500. 4.3% of its residents are below the Federal poverty level. [census] Chesterfield can afford to vet its applicants — for any office.
By contrast, those small suburbs located North of the Delmar Divide often cannot. Berkeley, Missouri is 81.8% African American, the median household income is $35,677 and the median value of homes there is $76,300. [census] St. Louis County has a personal property tax, property taxes, and a 2.88% sales tax. To add to the chaos created by the fractured system, the Parkway School District (Chesterfield) has a composite tax rate of 6.7256 while the Ferguson-Florissant composite rate is 7.8591. [StLCo] In short, the ‘tax effort’ in the Ferguson-Florissant area is higher, but the revenue is lower than in the wealthier neighborhoods.
A Question of Supply
We already know that Officer Darren Wilson formerly served with a police force (Jennings) which disbanded in the wake of serious tensions with the community. [WaPo] The St. Louis County police department has not been immune to these problems — one officer, Daniel Page, has been suspended pending an internal investigation including a mandatory psychiatric evaluation, often seen as prelude to dismissal or demotion. [CNN] A police officer from the suburban St. Ann Department was suspended indefinitely for pointing his rifle and threatening protestors. [Reuters] Sgt. Weston, of the Velda City PD, took to Twitter to justify the military style assault on protestors in Ferguson, and further suggested he’d like to “punch AG Eric Holder in the nose for so many different reasons.” [RFT]
But wait, there’s more: An officer who arrested reporters in the Ferguson McDonalds restaurant has his own legal issues, has a suit pending alleging he, Justin Cosma, and his partner in the JeffCo PD arrested and hogtied a 12 year old who was at the end of his driveway checking the family mailbox. [Slate]
In 2009, the Ferguson Police were involved in an incident in which a wrongly identified suspect was eventually charged with destruction of public property for bleeding on the officers’ uniforms. [TDB] In yet another unfortunate display of hiring disasters, Ferguson PD employed an individual who left the St. Louis City PD under a dense cloud of suspicion for hitting children. [HuffPo]
If a person is getting the impression that the vetting and hiring of police officers in suburban St. Louis County is a slap dash thing, there’s not much to refute that disturbing conclusion.
The police chief of Ferguson has already said he’s been trying to hire more ethnic minority individuals for his force — it may be instructive that the one individual of color he did hire recently was the self same person who left the City PD under that gloomy cloud? First, it has to be acknowledged that young African Americans would not be drawn to employment in a career which harbors individuals such as those mentioned above. If the local ‘police culture‘ doesn’t preclude rants at Oathkeeper meetings, or obscenely threatening protestors, or charging innocent civilians with destruction of property for bleeding after a beating, or Tweeting that punching the chief law enforcement officer of the nation would be a good idea, or using a baton on kids, then who would want to join?
Secondly, if a police organization cannot assure the community it is policing itself then there are options. Disbanding the force and replacing the personnel is an option, IF those persons don’t simply end up in another jurisdiction, having learned nothing in the interim. And, If the personnel who come in as replacements aren’t simply new faces with old problems.
A Question of Training
Assuming the police department of Anywhere, USA, can better screen its applicants to weed out the disturbed, the bigots, and the ne’er do wells, there are some questions which citizens can ask which might mitigate the militarization and use of excessive force.
#1. How many hours of in-service training in community relations are required? How is the effectiveness of this training evaluated?
#2. Does the department have a WRITTEN use of force policy, and what actions are taken in cases of an officer involved shooting or in the instance of a citizen complaint about the use of force?
#3. How often, and under what circumstances, does the department evaluate the success of its practices in terms of community relations? If the policies are evaluated only after some unfortunate incident has occurred, then the department is already behind the game.
#4. Does the department have a formal, institutionalized format for citizen involvement in handling complaints from the public? If not, why not?
#5. Does the department regularly seek information about the association of officers with hate groups or radical organizations? Does the department have a written (and Constitutional) policy about police officer involvement with organizations which promote radical agendas?
#6. Does the police department have involvement in state or Federal programs which seek to prevent problems before they become part of a “patterns and practices” investigation?
As always, we’ll get better answers when we ask better questions.