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Training for police officers in Missouri to get an upgrade

Gov. Jay Nixon announces that he has asked the state commission overseeing police officer training to update standards around tactical training, cultural competency, and officer wellness on August 6, 2015. Behind him is Mo. State Highway Patrol Capt. Ron
Bill Greenblatt | UPI

Training standards for police officers in Missouri will get an overhaul for the first time in nearly 20 years.

Gov. Jay Nixon announced Thursday that he will ask the Missouri Peace Officer Standards and Training Commission to issue new rules around tactical training, fair and impartial policing, and the well-being of officers.

"The brave men and women of law enforcement put their lives on the line every day to protect us and keep our streets safe," Nixon said. "We owe it to them, and the citizens they serve, to provide our law enforcement officers with the knowledge and training they need to keep themselves and their community safe."

The new standards, which are expected on Dec. 1, are based on the work of the Ferguson Commission. Its members want officers to get 24 hours of training in each of the three areas over three years, for a total of 120 hours.

"These three areas around culturally competent policing, tactical and use of force, and officer wellness are areas that the community has said are very important," said the Rev. Starsky Wilson, a co-chair of the commission. "We're glad there's a convergence of interest on this right now."

Wilson's co-chair, Rich McClure, applauded the three-month time frame.

"There needs to be sense of urgency in adopting these standards," he said. "It's really past time for us to increase these standards."

"It was clear to us that there was a differential that needed to be closed, both in the type of curricula, as well as in the guaranteeing of it," Nixon said. "The bottom line is, we feel a strong motivation to be leaders here."

Kevin Ahlbrand, a detective sergeant with the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department and president of the Missouri Fraternal Order of Police, was pleased Nixon addressed officer well-being. But he was concerned about the financial burden the additional training could put on small or rural departments.

"The FOP is committed to helping put on some of this training, and we might have to go on the road with a lot of it, because a lot of these smaller departments don't have the funds to send their officers to academies to get it," Ahlbrand said. "If they have to send an officer away for a whole day, they have to find a way to replace them." Ahlbrand is also a member of the Ferguson Commission.

New POST members

In addition to calling for upgrades to police training, Nixon also announced the nomination of five new members of the POST Commission. They are:

  • Rev. Emanuel Cleaver III, the pastor at St. James United Methodist Church in Kansas City.
  • Paul F. Williams, the chief of the Springfield Police Department.
  • Charles "Drew" Juden III, the director of the Sikeston Department of Public Safety.
  • Edward Clark, a detective with the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department and a Marine Corps veteran.
  • Jeffrey Hughley, a supervisor for the street crimes unit of the Kansas City Police Department.

The nominees, if confirmed by the state Senate, will bring the POST Commission to full strength of 11 members. Three would be African American, along with one woman.
"Whenever you start talking about dividing Missouri in two, you're telling people that you don't really understand how complex Missouri is," Nixon said. "You have those types of differences. You also have the different agencies that are represented. You also have different regions of the state."

The commission is limited by a requirement that no more than two of its members can come from the same congressional district. Wilson, of the Ferguson Commission, said the POST make-up highlights an ongoing problem in law enforcement. 

Ferguson Commissioner co-chairman Starsky Wilson
Credit Jason Rosenbaum I St. Louis Public Radio
Ferguson Commissioner co-chairman Starsky Wilson

"If you need people with subject-matter expertise, we have some limited choices," Wilson said. "We've got some work to do in leadership in law enforcement across the swath of the industry and the state to get the kind of diversity that may reflect gender diversity, socio-economic diversity and sexual orientation in a leadership role like the POST Commission."

The POST Commission is planning for public hearings as it drafts the new standards.

Follow Rachel Lippmann on Twitter: @rlippmann

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