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Ferguson Group's Report Concludes Police In St. Louis Area Have Not Made Enough Reforms

Rebeccah Bennett (left), Karishma Furtado (middle) and David Dwight (right) announce the publication of the State of Police Reform report. September 16, 2019
Chad Davis
Rebeccah Bennett (left), Karishma Furtado and David Dwight announce the publication of the State of Police Reform report.

A report from Forward Through Ferguson concluded that police departments in the St. Louis region have not enacted sufficient reforms to ensure racial equity in the way they police communities. 

The nonprofit organization released the State of Police Reform report late Monday. The report examined the Ferguson Police Department, the North County Police Cooperative and the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department between 2014 and 2019.

Among its conclusions are that a growing number of activists engaged in reform are dissatisfied with the current state of policing and that the region needs a public safety model that does not rely on incarceration.

The report also notes that many police efforts aimed at improving police-community relations rely on short-term programs instead of systematic changes.

Forward Through Ferguson staff members interviewed St. Louis-area residents and law enforcement officers. They found that while all three departments are implementing changes, which include more training for officers, those changes have yet to materialize into a change in policing practices.

Karishma Furtado is a research and data catalyst for Forward Through Ferguson.

“We found that training on its own will never be enough to change the culture of policing,” said Karishma Furtado, research and data catalyst for Forward Through Ferguson. “One interviewee bluntly commented, ‘We all go to training, and we laugh if we’re not sleeping.’”

Furtado said the report also ties the lack of substantial reforms to the leadership in the police departments.

“SLMPD has a triad of leaders —  the mayor, the director of public safety and the chief of police — who are misaligned when you look past their words and focus on their actions, or lack thereof,” she said.

But Furtado also said increased community pressure, legal mandates and stronger relationships between community members and officers are spurring some changes in the region, including more cooperation between community groups and law enforcement.

“Strong, positive relationships between community organizations and law enforcement such as the compassion and legitimacy Beyond Housing provides to NCPC’s community engagement efforts can also be fruitful.”

Forward Through Ferguson’s State of Police Reform report comes about one year after the nonprofit released the State of the Report. The findings from the 2018 report highlighted 47 priorities laid out by the Ferguson Commission in 2015.

Forward Through Ferguson officials found some progress on all 47, but only five of those priorities had been achieved. Progress in municipal court reform, police reform and community policing lagged behind the progress made in establishing more youth-oriented programs and identifying and enhancing public transportation. 

“We need to be clear about our goal, and that is to set a new culture and climate for public safety that is deeply committed to building a healthy and thriving community," said David Dwight IV, lead strategy catalyst for Forward Through Ferguson. “We need change that will invest in the root causes, not just apply Band-Aids to these deep diseases.”

Forward Through Ferguson will hold three town halls on its report this fall.

Hear St. Louis on the Air host Sarah Fenske's conversation with Karishma Furtado:

Follow Chad on Twitter@iamcdavis

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Chad is a general assignment reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.