Training in recognizing bias proposed for Mo. officers

Police training, particularly in cultural awareness, faced national scrutiny after Ferguson

By Summer Ballentine
Associated Press

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Missouri police officers would need to complete annual training in recognizing bias, de-escalating situations and dealing with people with mental illness under rules proposed in response to calls for change after a fatal Ferguson shooting last year.

The state Peace Officer Standards and Training Commission on Tuesday endorsed the revamped standards, prompted by a directive from Gov. Jay Nixon in August to take action.

"More effective training will benefit both officers and the communities they serve," Nixon said in a statement Tuesday. He added, "These new rules mark a significant milestone that will strengthen public safety and improve the well-being of officers all across our state."

The state commission's voice vote represented the first step toward the most expansive change in standards since continuing education training first was required in 1996, Department of Public Safety spokesman Mike O'Connell said.

The recommended rule change still must go through a review and public comment period.

Police training, particularly in cultural awareness, faced national scrutiny after white Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson fatally shot black 18-year-old Michael Brown in August 2014.

While Brown's death and other police shootings spurred changes in some law enforcement policies across the country, little has been done at the state level in Missouri. Lawmakers this year failed to adopt mandatory body cameras for police or require education in diversity. State Rep. Brandon Ellington, a Democrat from Kansas City, said Tuesday he will again file legislation requiring police body cameras in the legislative session beginning in January.

The rule changes endorsed Tuesday call for 24 hours of annual training, up from the 48 hours over three years now needed. Officers must complete two hours of education each in the areas of fair and impartial policing, tactical training, dealing with people with mental illness and officer well-being, including mental health awareness.

Commission chairman Capt. Ron Johnson of the State Highway Patrol, who led Ferguson security efforts during the massive protests that followed Brown's death, said the goal is to "make sure we're creating a culture that best serves our citizens and our visitors to Missouri."

Members of the panel also touted the change to annual training as a way to ensure police stay fresh on the best practices. Some expressed concern that officers now might cram three years' worth of classes into one year.

Atchison County Sheriff Dennis Martin said not all communities in Missouri have issues of racial bias in law enforcement, and that time spent in training also means time away from police work.

The sheriff said he's hopeful the proposed rules will lead to improvements but questioned whether more education will solve problems, particularly issues with police eager to arrest and unwilling to talk.

"I don't believe it's a training issue," Martin said. "If they're not called to be a peace officer, it doesn't make any difference how much training you require him to have. He will never be a good one."

The rules next will be filed with the secretary of state and the Legislature's Joint Committee on Administrative Rules.

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press

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