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Police Command Center Dismantled, Highway Patrol And County Police Continue Roles In Ferguson

Camille Phillips/St. Louis Public Radio

The staging area where various police agencies coordinated in the wake of riots and looting in Ferguson has been dismantled. The National Guard has also left the area.

Missouri State Highway Patrol Captain Ron Johnson told reporters at a press conference Wednesday that although the command center has been dismantled, unified command under the leadership of the Highway Patrol remains in effect.

Johnson said the highway patrol and St. Louis County Police will continue to monitor West Florissant Avenue, but all St. Louis Metropolitan Police have returned to their normal jurisdictions.

Johnson also said the number of officers patrolling the area was reduced Wednesday, following initial reductions on Tuesday. But he declined to say how many police left, or how many remain.

Contrary to his previous focus on trouble caused by "outsiders," Johnson said  that locals and visitors were arrested in equal numbers.

“There was a balance. I think it would be unfair to say that everyone who visited our state was a problem. We had people come from all across the country who came to be a part of the peaceful protests,” he said.

Johnson said that the tone has changed in Ferguson in recent days because law enforcement has begun listening to the community.

"Early in the response to Ferguson, there was tension between law enforcement and some of the protestors. I think all of you who have been in Ferguson the last several days have noticed a positive change toward relationship building. True change happened because we in law enforcement are listening."

St. Louis Metropolitan Police Chief Sam Dotson and St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar flanked  Johnson during the press conference. According to Johnson, the decision to dismantle the command center followed a discussion among the three men.

At one point, a reporter asked Johnson about the types of enforcement measures used by police under his command. Johnson said that no police officers had fired their guns since he took over two weeks ago, and that he didn’t believe rubber bullets had been used.

“There were some bean bags used, I believe,” said Johnson.

Belmar confirmed Johnson’s statement, saying that, they used “stingers” –tennis ball shaped objects with rubber balls inside, but not rubber bullets.

Belmar was also asked whether he regretted any of the actions taken while he had command.

“No, I really don’t, and I’ll tell you why,” said Belmar. “Our choices were to wade into the crowd with nightsticks and riot sticks, like I’ve said before in my 28 years I’ve seen the damage they can do. They’re not temporary damage. Sometimes those injuries are long lasting. I felt like in my 20 years of law enforcement experience—I’ve been tear gassed perhaps two dozen times—it’s a chemical agent, it’s not pleasant, but at the end of the day there aren’t any long lasting effects.”

Stephanie Lecci contributed to this report.

Follow Camille Phillips on Twitter: @cmpcamille