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Ferguson Commission will measure recommendations by three questions on racial equality

The Rev. Starsky Wilson, co-chair of the Ferguson Commission
File photo I Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio

The Ferguson Commission agreed Monday night by a unanimous vote to adopt a new operating principle that requires its working groups to use a lens of racial equality as they consider their recommendations for the September report. 

Specifically, the groups will have to consider three questions:

  1. Who does this particular policy benefit?
  2. Does it impact different racial groups unequally?
  3. Which inequities are not being addressed as part of the policy?

"The core of why we are here, and the underlying sin, if you will, that we are dealing with is one of race and racism," said Rev. Starsky Wilson, the president of the Deaconess Foundation and a Ferguson Commission co-chair. "And so if in our work we do not model an approach to public policy that does not get at the racial disparity that comes through public policy, then we are not really doing our work." 
Wilson said he suggested the new policy to demonstrate to the community how serious the commission is about tackling ingrained racial inequality in the St. Louis region.

"It's also another opportunity to model for those settings that are making policy throughout the region that this is something they could do as well," he said.

Rich McClure, Wilson's co-chairman, said the three questions will force everyone to think about the systemic issues that can happen when policies impact one group differently than another.

"That doesn't happen if you ask these questions at the outset," he said. "I don't think that's divisive, I think that's inclusive."

More police training

Commissioners on Monday also heard initial policy recommendations from the working group set up to address police and community relations.

Its members are recommending an additional 24 hours of training a year -- eight each in reducing bias, tactical skills and officer wellness. 

"This is a baseline," said Brittany Packnett, a co-chair of the working group. "We hope this will be moved on immediately, because obviously, this issue is of the utmost importance and urgency." She said law enforcement experts who testified to President Obama's Task Force on 21st Century Policing said they wanted to see as much as three or four weeks a year of training in the areas her group is addressing.

Dan Isom, former state director of public safety and St. Louis police chief, said officers need more of a chance to practice decision-making before they end up in a stressful situation.

"What we’re trying to do here is make sure that officers have an opportunity to process that threat in a very tactical way," he said. "And hopefully, if they’re in a good position, it offers them an opportunity to do different things besides using deadly force."

The group has yet to tackle the sticky subject of police accountability, a topic they'll address at their meeting next week.

Next steps

A timeline adopted by the commissioners on Monday calls for working groups to submit their policy recommendations to the full commission by June 1. The community will have a chance to review all of them at additional public meetings.  Members and staff are simultaneously looking at ways to turn those recommendations into policies that can pass at the state and local level.

The commission must release its final report by Sept. 15.

Follow Rachel Lippmann on Twitter: @rlippmann

Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.