The Ferguson Police Department is asking the public how it should do its job. Ferguson held the first of several meetings Saturday to ask residents and other stakeholders to join a steering committee that will create a neighborhood policing plan.
The idea is to build positive relationships between police officers and the neighborhoods they serve by creating a plan that will build positive community interactions.
The plan will have specific goals and projects and become department policy, according to interim police chief Andre Anderson.
“The community will have a great deal of authority with respect to how we implement this plan. We have to remember that we’re not giving the community the authority. They already have the authority,” Anderson said. “So it’s a matter of waking the community up to say look, how do you want us to work? How do you want us to police?”
Asked how long-lived this plan will be, given that he is in Ferguson on an interim basis, Anderson said that he believes it will outlive him.
“This is a community plan. So it will live because the community is the one who really cares about this plan,” Anderson said.
Anderson has already implemented some community-oriented policing practices, such as encouraging officers to walk their service areas and talk to people, but the neighborhood policing plan will be developed through input from the public.
Ferguson Mayor James Knowles described the neighborhood policing plan as the next step in the city’s community-oriented policing work.
“It’s really about making more of the entire department connected to the community. I think it’s going to be a great opportunity to change that relationship between segments of the community who are fearful or maybe even skeptical about the relationship with law enforcement,” Knowles said.
Audience members expressed support for getting officers more involved in the community, but also asked challenging questions. Ferguson resident Mildred Clines asked how the department will change a culture of racial bias when it still employs the same officers.
“I just need to know from them how they’re going to do that when they have the same people that are in place that was a part of the problems,” Clines said.
“I want to be optimistic but I’m not that optimistic,” She added. “I just know it’s going to be a challenge and I think some people don’t realize how hard it’s going to be. I’m here because I want to be a part of the solution. I just know it’s going to be very, very hard.”
Anderson said changes will come through training and time, adding that the department is also bringing in new officers, but even police officers who have been with the department for a long time are embracing the new concepts—such as the idea that officers should be guardians instead of warriors.
“The community at large is not combatants,” Anderson explained. “We have to address those who commit crimes but the vast majority of people are good, caring, hardworking individuals and our jobs are to be shepherds, our jobs are to be guardians. What we want to do is to bring the nobility of policing back.”
Saturday’s meeting was held at Greater Grace Church on Pershall Road in north Ferguson. Anderson said Ferguson needs to also hold community meetings on South Florissant Road and West Florissant Road before they determine a timeline for when a draft of the neighborhood policing plan will be prepared.
Follow Camille Phillips on Twitter: @cmpcamille.