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Former St. Louis police chief weighs in on police training

Karen Aroesty and Dan Isom joined "St. Louis on the Air" host Don Marsh.
Alex Heuer
St. Louis Public Radio


There have been many suggestions on improving policing in our region since the unrest in Ferguson. One of the issues that has come to light is the need for changes in police training, specifically diversity training.

UMSL criminology professor and former St. Louis police chief Dan Isom, and Anti-Defamation League director Karen Aroesty joined “St. Louis on the Air” host Don Marsh to talk about issues with police training including the latest recommendations from the Ferguson Commission.

Isom is a member of the Ferguson Commission. The group’s goal is to find ways to address the social and economic concerns of many residents in the St. Louis region following the unrest over the death of Michael Brown.

Concerns of the relationship between the police and community have dominated many of commission’s meetings.

“I think the most important thing that we’ve learned is that policing certainly is a community partnership,” Isom said, “that you cannot police a community without a very strong relationship with the community.”

Isom explained that in order to control instances like “crime, fear and disorder,” there has to be a collective effort.

Aroesty said that since August 9, the impact of social media and video recording of police interactions have at times led to inaccuracies that have influenced what people think about policing.

“I think that we haven’t figured out exactly how to accept that nothing about policing gets tied up into this neat little box,” Aroesty said. “The structures that have supported police learning and education and continuing education have to be much more flexible and responsive to different changes in the community than they have been.”

One way to combat issues, Isom explained, is for people to be aware of the biases they have.

“I think the importance in terms of anti-bias training is how can we really make it relevant to officers’ jobs,” Isom said.

Isom says the relevance in the training could be that it can help officers understand better ways of getting people they encounter to comply.

“If people voluntarily comply, that makes [the officer’s] job safer,” he explained.

Among other topics, Isom spoke about the screening process officers go through prior to joining the force, and how at times, the nature of the job can affect an officer even if he or she passed the initial screening.

“It’s something about the nature of the job that changes people,” Isom said. “So, we really have to be thoughtful about giving them the skills to process what they’re dealing with when they get to the job.”

St. Louis on the Air discusses issues and concerns facing the St. Louis area. The show is produced by Mary Edwards and Alex Heuer and hosted by veteran journalist Don Marsh. Follow us on Twitter: @STLonAir.

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