© 2023 St. Louis Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

New training standards for Missouri law officers include de-escalation techniques

Missouri Department of Public Safety Director Lane Roberts, second from right, discusses upgraded training standards before Tuesday's vote. Ron Johnson on far right
Marshall Griffin | St. Louis Public Radio

Police officers in Missouri will be getting more training in how to interact with potential suspects and the public at large.

The Peace Officers Standards and Training Commission voted unanimously Tuesday for the new standards, which expand the number of hours of training a year to 24 from the current 16 that officers must have to remain licensed.

They also mandate that all law enforcement academies in Missouri provide training to cover the following:

  • Fair and impartial policing practices, including implicit bias recognition
  • Tactical training, including de-escalation techniques, crisis management, critical thinking and social intelligence
  • Handling persons with mental health and cognitive impairment issues
  • Officer well-being, including mental health awareness.

All licensed officers must complete two hours of training a year in these four subject areas.
Lane Roberts, director of the Department of Public Safety, told reporters, "This training standard makes sure that we all stay in lock-step, so that when things do occur, that we're all prepared to deal with them."

Increased police training was one of the top recommendations of the Ferguson commission, formed in the wake of the unrest following the fatal shooting of Michael Brown by police officer Darren Wilson. These recommendations come after a series of public hearings around the state.

Some police and sheriff's offices in smaller rural areas of Missouri are not so thrilled with the new standards, however. Dennis Martin, sheriff of Atchison County in the northwest corner of Missouri, told commission members that his community doesn't have the same issues as urban and suburban areas of Missouri, and that expanding the number of training hours by 50 percent will be a financial burden.

"I am going to have issues maintaining a reserve (officer) status," Martin said. "These rules are all laid on the officer because, by statute, I don't have to pay for it. The reality is, I have to pay for it ... it's a rule that you're promulgating to maintain this person's certification, (and) I'm still responsible."

He also said that becoming a law enforcement officer is more than just a job, that it's a calling.

"The officer has to have a heart for what he (or) she is doing, and at the same time the community has to understand that we are there to do that corny phrase, 'to serve and protect' them, that is our purpose, and we do it at the best of our abilities," Martin told reporters. "I just don't know that mandating more training (will work) … If you've got someone that's a problem, get rid of them."

Highway Patrol Captain Ron Johnson, who chairs the commission, told Martin that he wished having the right heart for police work were enough, but it's not.

Gov. Jay Nixon asked the POST commission back in August to craft the new standards. They still have to undergo a 30-day comment period and be filed with the joint legislative committee on Administrative Rules before they officially take effect.  The public comment period is estimated to run from January 15th to Febrary 14th.

Follow Marshall Griffin on Twitter:  @MarshallGReport

Marshal was a political reporter for St. Louis Public Radio until 2018.