Statewide agency gathers suggestions to improve law enforcement in St. Louis

Sep 24, 2015

A Missouri state commission tasked with developing new training and professional standards for law enforcement held a public hearing on Thursday. More than a dozen residents, elected officials and members of law enforcement took to the podium to voice their opinions in the student center at St. Louis Community College Florissant Valley over the course of two hours.  

Dellwood resident Darnell Singleton, a former code inspector, recommended offering financial incentives to officers to live in the communities where they work as a way to increase the diversity of the police force. Training on cultural awareness and implicit bias must also be improved, he said.  

“We should not have white people teaching white people about what it’s like to be black,” Singleton told the commission.  

Jauquin Holmes of St. Louis said law enforcement has become a militaristic, fraternity-like culture that creates distrust within communities.
Credit Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio

In early August, Gov. Jay Nixon asked the Missouri Department of Public Safety to issue new training requirements for officers based on recommendations from the Ferguson Commission report. The report has five subheadings related to police training, including an additional 24 hours of mandated tactical, wellness and anti-bias training for officers. The Peace Officers Standards and Training (POST) Commission has since begun a series of public hearings throughout the state to gather feedback.

“They always say they need more training, that’s fine. But the thing about it is, where are they going to get the money from?” said James McGee, the mayor of Vinita Park. “They’re not providing any funding for that. That’s another undue burden on cities.”

In general, local police departments pay for the ongoing training requirements of their officers.  

Craig Politte, a local therapist who previously worked in law enforcement, recommended training officers to recognize the symptoms of depression, PTSD and other mental health issues among their colleagues.

“Police officers are a very difficult culture; we don’t believe we need help. We hear this is what we signed up for, this is what we get paid to do, this is my job,” Polittle said.

DPS Director Lane Roberts listens to testimony at St. Louis Community College's Florissant Valley campus.
Credit Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio

The St. Louis Community College hearing was the third the POST Commission has held, following meetings in Jefferson City and Springfield. Department of Public Safety director Lane Roberts said he’s seeing themes emerge: the number of mandated training hours, course content, officer communication skills and the diversity of local police forces.

The POST Commission’s recommendations are expected to be issued December 1.

Bouscaren covers health and science in the St. Louis region. For more, follow her on Twitter: @durrieB