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Missouri board approves plan for nation's first police academy at historically Black college

Missouri board approves plan for nation's first police academy at historically Black college

Lincoln University

Lincoln University (File photo courtesy of the Jefferson City-based university)

ST. LOUIS — The board tasked with overseeing police training in Missouri voted Monday to approve initial plans for the first police academy at a historically Black college or university in the country at Lincoln University in Jefferson City.

The Missouri Peace Officer Standards and Training, or POST, Commission, unanimously approved the proposal from the university designed with the mission to recruit more minority students into law enforcement in Missouri.

“At many police departments now, there is a shortage in minority recruiting and that is what we are really focusing on,” Lincoln professor Joseph Steenbergen, a retired St. Charles city police officer, said Monday while presenting the proposal to the commission.

None of the 107 associated Historically Black Colleges and Universities, or HBCUs, in the country has had a police academy in the curriculum, he said.

The school hopes the program will fit into the curriculum as one semester of classes while students earn their associates or bachelor’s degree.

“Minority recruitment is probably the most difficult thing right now,” POST Commissioner and Springfield Police Department Chief Paul Williams said in support of the plan Monday, adding that in the 10 years he’s been chief at Springfield, the department has gone from zero minority officers to five despite efforts to recruit.

Lincoln University will need to undergo a site visit and review of its faculty, curriculum and advisory board to get final approval from the Missouri Department of Public Safety for a license for the academy.

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson supported the effort for the new academy and has pushed for changes to police training in the state, his office said in a press release Monday.

The governor appointed two new members to the commission in June: Gary Hill, who serves as chief of police at Lincoln University in Jefferson City, and Jefferson County Sheriff Dave Marshak.

If approved,the academy at Lincoln will become the 20th police academy in the state.

The POST Commission on Monday also unanimously approved a requirement for all licensed police officers in the state to take an hour of both implicit bias and de-escalation training every year. That is in addition to one hour of racial profiling training already required each year by POST.

The training will be part of the 24 hours of continuing education required every year to maintain a police license.

The new requirements won approval after the POST Commission conducted listening sessions this summer and gathered more than 2,000 responses to an online survey of Missouri police officers and residents that showed the highest levels of support for those training topics. The effort was partly in response to the national criticism of policing after the death of George Floyd during an arrest in Minneapolis this year.

The new requirements are expected to go into effect in 2022, because they must go through an approval and public comment process that typically takes at least seven months, according to Mike O’Connell, a Department of Public Safety spokesman.

The POST Commission Monday also appointed two committees to consider more changes to policing in the state.

The first, lead by Jefferson County Sheriff Dave Marshak, will consider adding instruction in basic training on the history of police and minority community relations.

“In the academy we teach about the history of policing, but sometimes we don’t focus on the difficult topics like the way police have been used to enforce bias laws in the past,” Marshak said Tuesday. “So I think we need to change that.”

Another committee will consider options for POST to require law enforcement agencies to check an applicant’s past disciplinary history on record with the Department of Public Safety before hiring officers. Members of the commission hope the change could cut down on the ongoing problem of officers bouncing from department to department despite a history of misconduct in the state.

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