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Survey on Missouri police oversight shows support for changes in training, discipline

Survey on Missouri police oversight shows support for changes in training, discipline

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ST. LOUIS — A survey recently submitted by more than 2,000 Missouri police officers and residents showed a high level of support for de-escalation and racial bias training.

Surveys also showed concern among law enforcement about an often-slow discipline process that allows officers accused of wrongdoing to bounce from department to department.

The Missouri agency tasked with overseeing police training, licensing and discipline — called Missouri Peace Officer Standards and Training, or POST — launched the online surveys last month.

POST’s 11-member commission, made up of members of law enforcement or training academies, held a series of three listening sessions that concluded Wednesday afternoon. The sessions were similar to a series held after Ferguson protests that prompted the agency to require more racial bias training for police in the state, among other changes.

The more than 1,500 civilians who opted to take the short survey were most concerned about too few police officers in their area (27% of respondents), officers acting unprofessionally (18%) and lack of adequate training (17%).

About 470 members of law enforcement took a separate survey. Their written concerns, published on the POST website, often focused on training requirements.

POST approves the curriculum at the state’s police academies, and the agency requires officers to complete an additional 24 hours of training per year to maintain their license.

Some commissioners voiced support for reviewing new training options in response to the surveys, including programs on how officers can better respond to people with mental illness, training standards designed specifically for command staff and police chiefs, and more education in the academy of the history of police officers’ relationship with minority communities.

Jefferson County Sheriff Dave Marshak was among the commissioners who supported adding more historical context to the curriculum.

“It’s important for us to have an acknowledgment of our history of policing,” Marshak said. “I think that can go a long way to improve our relationships in the future.”

Marshak was one of two appointees added to the commission in June by Gov. Mike Parson after House Minority Leader Crystal Quade, D-Springfield, publicly complained about vacant seats and lack of action by the board. Gary Hill, who serves as chief of police at Lincoln University in Jefferson City, is the second new member.

A series of responses claimed that many officers do not benefit from completing online training.

“I see the move to online training as a joke,” one member of law enforcement wrote. Respondents’ names and departments were not made public. “Some of my officers start the video playing, and then mute the sound.”

POST program manager Jeremy Spratt said the agency requires that training courses have measures to ensure participation, such as random questions intended to ensure comprehension of the material.

Many officers’ comments also focused on issues with the police license discipline process.

“An officer is under review by the POST Commission, however, that officer is currently working in the line of duty,” one member of law enforcement submitted. “When an officer is under review for something, it is concerning they are still allowed to work, putting all their cases into jeopardy.”

“Something should be done to avoid ‘department hopping’ to avoid accountability,” another member of law enforcement wrote.

The commission said one obstacle for swift discipline is the agency’s small staff — POST has only two full-time investigators tasked with building cases across the state.

Spratt said the discipline process is also slowed by the tribunal process required by law. If an officer fights discipline, the process can take more than a year, he said.

POST revoked 60 police licenses from 2015 to 2019, according to department records. Over the same period, 196 officers voluntarily surrendered their licenses through the disciplinary process.

By state law, POST is not allowed to release a police officer’s record of past disciplinary actions or dates of employment at past departments to the general public. Completed POST misconduct investigations are, however, available to hiring law enforcement agencies.

The POST Commission is set to meet again in October to further discuss possible changes in response to the public comments.

More information on POST’s work can be found at dps.mo.gov/dir/programs/post/.

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