The Human Rights Task Force (HRTF) of Empower Missouri applauds the response by city officials in Columbia, MO, to a recent inflammatory posting on the Columbia Police Officers Association (CPOA) Facebook page. The posting, declaring August 9 “Darren Wilson Day,” drew a rebuke from Police Chief Ken Burton who labeled the social media item offensive, insensitive and provocative, according to the Columbia Daily Tribune coverage. The Tribune also reported that both Burton and City Manager Mike Matthes attended a protest regarding the CPOA action in front of the police department.
Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson killed Michael Brown, an unarmed teenager, on August 9, 2014, but was charged with no crime after local and federal investigations were completed. Our communities need officers prepared to de-escalate situations that begin to get out of control. We acknowledge that a 100% success rate will be impossible, but we are certain that lives could and should be saved.
The Missouri racial profiling law requires agencies to train officers to use “effective, non-combative methods of carrying out law enforcement duties in a racially and culturally diverse environment.” Chief Burton has shown commitment to providing officers with training to de-escalate difficult situations; this can save lives going forward – of community members and of police officers.
The Facebook posting by the CPOA is an example of why such training is needed. Police officers work in a hazardous profession, and danger breeds deep bonds. In their desire to stand up for one of their own, the potential of insult being taken by many in the community was disregarded. With training, police officers can make better choices and foster positive community relationships, which ultimately benefit themselves as well.
The anniversary of Brown’s death calls all of us to deep reflection on what we can do to improve police and community relationships in our state. Governor Jay Nixon has recently announced plans to take executive action to promote fair and impartial policing. The Executive Branch includes the Department of Public Safety which oversees standards for officer training. Training has improved in recent years, but officers still need more help learning non-lethal tactics and how to control unconscious bias.
The HRTF has recommended several action steps to improve policing. Download the list as a PDF at the HRTF webpage: http://empowermissouri.org/task-forces/human-rights/]
If you would like to participate in our campaign for fair and impartial policing, become a part of our Human Rights Task Force. Meetings are at 1:30 p.m. on the fourth Thursday of most months. Once you join, you will receive emailed updates.