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St. Louis County police set to receive Justice Department report on training, bias

St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar at a press conference Thursday, Sept.4
File photo by Bill Greenblatt | UPI

A third federal review of policing in the St. Louis area is due out this week.

The Office of Community-Oriented Policing Services, an arm of the Department of Justice, began what's called a collaborative reform initiative with the St. Louis County police last September, at the request of Chief Jon Belmar.

Belmar wanted COPS to help improve the department's policies around use of force and bias-free policing, and law enforcement training at both the academy and continuing professional level. St. Louis County provides the training for a large majority of the officers in municipal police departments.

“The legacy of the St. Louis County Police Department has been to be open, transparent and forward-looking, and take the initiative," Belmar said in making his request last September. "We’re not afraid to have outside reviewers in here, and I can’t think of a better one, especially in light of the events in Ferguson than the Department of Justice." 

The county is one of eight departments nationwide that have requested these voluntary reviews, which do not carry the threat of a lawsuit. Belmar has also worked with the Center for Policing Equity at the University of California-Los Angeles, and the county undergoes periodic reviews as part of the Commission on Law Enforcement Accreditation process.

Earlier this month, the DOJ released its review of how the county police, along with their counterparts from the St. Louis Metropolitan and Ferguson police and the Missouri State Highway Patrol, dealt with protests in the 17 days following the August 2014 shooting death of Michael Brown. It found a police response that was often chaotic and uncoordinated, with inconsistent leadership leading to communication and operational difficulties. 

The city of Ferguson and the Department of Justice's civil rights division continue to negotiate Ferguson's response to a March 2015 report that found its police department routinely violated the rights of its African-American residents with policing that was directed more toward revenue generation than public safety. 

In 2014, the Missouri state chapter of the NAACP filed a federal civil rights complaint against the St. Louis County police alleging racial profiling and rampant racism in the department's hiring, firing and disciplinary processes. The status of that complaint was not immediately clear.

Follow Rachel Lippmann on Twitter: @rlippmann

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