Pictured above is a map showing reported violent crime: murder, felony assault, robbery, and arson, to St. Louis County Police since August in the area around W. Florissant near Ferguson. It does not include those same crimes reported to Muni’s in the area which explains why it drops off at the Ferguson City limits and other corresponding city limits. In other words, this is an under-representation of the total problem.
The DOJ is apparently preparing to release another report on Ferguson in the coming weeks. The report is expected to be a condemnation of the tactics used by the officers from around fifty agencies who responded to the riots following the death of Mike Brown back in August.
While the Response Report is expected within the next several days, a much larger report on St. Louis County Police in the vein of the Ferguson report from March is expected later this month. The timing of these reports is suspect considering that we are currently one month away from the anniversary of the riots, a time that almost everyone in Law Enforcement expects to be bad… though at the moment we can only guess as to how bad. County Police are reportedly going to twelve hour shifts again preemptively around that time just in case.
While I don’t have access to the entire Response Report, a supposedly confidential executive summary of the report was leaked to the St. Louis Post Dispatch. According to the Post, the DOJ faults the response in the following ways, which I’ve organized into a more manageable format for my own dissemination. My commentary is in italics:
1. Command Issues
1A. Uncoordinated Effort
-Breakdown in internal communication
A breakdown in communication is the crux of almost all of the following complaints and further evidence of the severity of the first weeks in August. Multiple scenes were active at once with manpower split all over the region. In my experience, commanders fell into one of two categories.
- Those who were able to get into contact with the upper level command staff.
- Those who were awaiting their turn in queue to get in contact with upper level command staff.
Of the second group, these commanders were divided up into the following:
- Those who could act autonomously (smallest group).
- Those who opted to stay put awaiting approval for action (majority).
- Those who didn’t know what to do.
-Vague and arbitrary rules to keep protesters moving
This issue is largely based off of an apparent St. Louis County ordinance. Enforcement of the “peace disturbance” state statute that includes blocking roadways was also used sporadically as well. However, the arbitrary appearance of enforcement was due to the following:
- Officers were responding from numerous other agencies. I’m personally unfamiliar with the County’s ordinance in question above so I would only be aware of violations in reference to the state statute for peace disturbance. It’s hard to arrest people for violations of laws I’m not familiar with.
- Lag time between arrest decisions and upper level command approval resulted in what appeared to be arbitrary enforcement.
- Some commanders opted to do nothing and simply sit behind skirmish lines because they didn’t know what to do, were fearful of upper level command realizing this, and would have had difficulty getting through to upper level command due to the chaos even if they had been so inclined.
– Ineffective control of officers from different agencies with different philosophies and training
Core departments who are having difficulty communicating and controlling their own officers will naturally have issues with those flooding the area from outside their organization and command structure.
– Inconsistencies in arrest decisions and use-of-force
See above. Furthermore, it should be noted and emphasized that individual decision making is largely non-existent on a skirmish line. Line integrity is more important than any individual desire to make an arrest, no matter how justified its basis in legal authority.
– Sometimes violated free-speech rights
The size and scope of the unrest in Ferguson and the number of officers responding, along with the law of averages, indicates that this probably did happen at some point during the unrest. The now fired St. Ann officer who lost his temper and threatened kill members of the crowd, including media, after someone in their midst threw a bottle of urine at him, comes to mind.
However, many more of the oft cited cases are either anecdotal in nature or debunked like when Huffington Post reporter, Ryan Reily became the boy who cried “media suppression,” after he forgot to mention that he was trespassing when arrested at a McDonalds.
Furthermore, once an assembly is deemed, “unlawful” due to such things to include but not limited to shots fired in the air, shots fired at people, molotov cocktails thrown at people, molotov cocktails thrown at buildings, people robbed, people assaulted, businesses looted, the peaceable requirement for a first amendment “peaceable assembly” is no longer satisfied.
– Commanders shielded officers from accountability
I am unaware of any command decision to shield officers from accountability. I know that numerous officers have been included in Ferguson related lawsuits simply because their names were listed as having attended a Code 1000 and nothing more. This information was apparently obtained through County dispatch and seems to be in direct contradiction to any claim of command level efforts to hide officers from accountability. In fact my department sent out several emails reminding us of our uniform policy after concerns about the name tag issue were raised.
1B. Policy Concerns
– Information about the shooting was not released in a timely manner
In my opinion, information that was thought to be accurate was released in far TOO timely a manner at the expense of accuracy. When information was quickly released, then changed, it helped to promote the appearance of a cover-up and fuel conspiracy theories regarding a command level effort to hide a murder.
For example, Ferguson Police Chief, Tom Jackson came out early on and said that Darren Wilson was unaware of the strong-arm robbery at Ferguson Market at the time he made contact with Mike Brown. We now know that to be false but the first information released has become the ONLY information released to many in the St. Louis Region.
– Departmental Policies were not readily available with the exception of St. Louis County.
This is simply due to the fact that policy availability is a requirement of CALEA, of which St. Louis County is a part.
– There was more technical training than de-escalation technique training
See above. Individual decision making is largely non-existent on a skirmish line. Save for not engaging in stupid behavior like threatening to kill reporters, or maintaining one’s composure in the face of threats and hate speech, there’s really not a lot for line level officers to do escalation wise when on a skirmish line.
A lot of the pictures of heavily armored police are tactical officers, SWAT officers, who were negligently mischaracterized in the media as belonging to “Ferguson Police” in the early days of the unrest as if they were demonstrative of all the police present. They made up only a small number of the total officers presents but boy did they make for far more exciting pictures for the Post Dispatch to win a Pulitzer Prize for publishing. I didn’t even get a helmet until just before the Grand Jury decision in November.
1C. Failures of Command / Lack of Foresight
– Commanders underestimated the impact of social media on overall unrest
True. If there’s one thing police commanders are absolutely horrible at, it’s staying current with technology.
– Police departments were unprepared for cyber attacks against organizations and their individual officers
True. However, the acknowledgment of this issue is ironic due to it’s inclusion by the Justice Department who were not only derelict in their duty to investigate/prosecute these cases adequately, but also put officers at greater risk of cyber and personal threats, by putting such a hyper-focus on name tags, an overreach in their demand and unrelated to any legal precedent.
As I recall, name-tags were referred to as “non-negotiable” by Christie Lopez, Deputy Chief in charge of Special Litigation for the United States Department of Justice.
2. Environmental Issues
– Longstanding police community problems in Ferguson exacerbated the unrest
Perceptions of police misconduct definitely played a role in the unrest in Ferguson. Of course, to be fair, the false perception perpetuated by the media and a Canfield Green community committed to lying and threatening their way to a conviction of Darren Wilson, based almost solely around his race, did far more to exacerbate the riots that followed.
I hate that this has to be restated so often but the riots had everything to do with the DeRay McKesson promoted narrative that the racist police are murdering black boys for no reason with impunity and covering up those murders while having little to nothing to do with racial disparity in traffic stops and court costs.
– The duration and severity of the unrest led to officers who were in a state of “fatigue and stress, which impacted health, well-being, judgment and performance”
True. I have nothing more to add.
– Officers were unprepared for the level and severity of personal attacks / threats on their safety and that of their families.
This is also true, though I’m not sure how anyone prepares for such things.
3. Tactical Issues
– Crowds were antagonized by militarized tactics
While I reject this conclusion, the Justice Department is apparently slipping up in their rhetoric when referencing the County Tactical “Overwatch” sniper as being sometimes necessary at night, but unnecessary during the day. This distinction is interesting, because it explains and justifies their existence and the more general existence of “militarized” gear. When a crowd gathers under the guise of a protest for a specific cause, but then takes advantage of that coverage to engage in violent actions at night, it is natural to expect that in the immediate aftermath, when another group gathers under the banner of protest for that same cause, that it may also turn violent. Past behavior is the best predictor of future conduct.
When matters became so terrible the night of August 10th and the County was caught so unprepared, it was natural to expect a larger reaction to compensate the next day if for no other reason than to hopefully prevent another bad night. However, the apparent perception amongst police commanders that such a show of force would lead to reduced hostilities was a gross miscalculation.
– The use of K9’s incited anger and fear.
The use of K9’s was largely irrelevant. The make up of the crowd made it impossible to deploy a dog except for show. As such, I am unaware of any K9’s being released into the crowd. Releasing a dog would have resulted in:
- A dog who was unable to determine who it was supposed to bite and take down due to the number of people.
- Injury to innocent bystanders due to proximity and since the dog was already unable to determine a singular target.
- Potential/likely injury to the dog from the hundreds of people in the crowd.
K9’s definitely incited anger where their use was limited, and allowed for out-of-context memes comparing our response to 1960’s era responses by the likes of racist policing officials like Bull Connor. Of course, such memes ignore that these protests, particularly in the beginning, were not peaceful .
Furthermore, the argument that the use of K9’s incited “fear” is baseless as evidenced by the duration and scope of the Ferguson protests. If people were afraid of the dogs, repeated protester presence on the streets which grew even larger after the first days, seems to discredit that notion handedly.
– Tear Gas was used without warning.
This complaint seems to be an exercise in the pedantic. While a sympathetic federal court judge has recently ruled that officers must give a specific warning regarding chemical munitions prior to their deployment, there is no legal precedence for this besides a general reasonable expectation that an unlawful crowd be ordered to disperse first, so that they’re aware that their presence has formally been deemed unlawful. Any time tear gas was used in my presence it came after numerous orders to disperse along the lines of “This is an unlawful assembly. You must disperse immediately.”
Tear gas had been used near the Command Post (CP) at the Buzz Westfall Plaza on the second Sunday of unrest prior to my arrival (and then later on as well), but this may have come as an act of desperation which would seem to fit an exigency standard that would deem any verbal order irrelevant. For example, a lot of use-of-force policies indicate that an officer should strive to give verbal commands prior to utilizing said force, but all the while acknowledging that this may not be necessary or possible in an emergency situation.
On the Sunday in question that I’m referring to specifically, a dispatcher frantically went out over the radio, “All available first and second precinct units, respond to Buzz Westfall, they’re about to overrun the CP.” If that doesn’t qualify as exigent circumstances, I don’t know what does.
– Lack of traffic control resulted in dangerous situations
True story. This has continued to be a problem as recently as the night of 4/29 when three people were shot and numerous others were almost run over by idiots joyriding through the area. Manpower shortages are making these situations worse and more likely going forward.
– Intelligence obtained was not utilized well.
True. See above in reference to social media utilization by command staff.
– Some agencies had incompatible radios
While true, compatible radios could be checked out at the Command Post.
(As you continue reading, does this section seem a little light to anyone else when considering the long list of complaints?)
1. Tactical teams should be kept out of sight
Tactical Team utilization should be considered based upon necessity, legal and logistical requirements of a scene, not political correctness or optics. I was with a group of people the first night who were attacked despite at the time not having any of the gear that’s apparently been deemed to be so inflammatory. Likewise, a group of troopers operating under this doctrine were injured and would have died had county tactical not been called in to save them the first Friday of unrest.
2. Regional training should be conducted focusing on de-escalation techniques
This seems largely irrelevant as long as skirmish line tactics are used.
3. Less-lethal weapons should be color coded.
They are with the exception of weapons that are awkwardly shaped like tear gas launchers or the pepper ball guns, which are glorified paintball guns.
4. Alternative form of identification that protects identity without preventing accountability.
Gee, you mean like badges? Furthermore, I was under the impression that name-tags specifically were “non-negotiable.” Backpedaling on such an important “non-negotiable” topic seems like an awkward admission of fault from the DOJ involving their complicity in the targeted treatment of officers by online threats and other cyber crimes.
…Tense times ahead.