Hundreds share opinions with state on how to train Missouri law enforcement officers

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JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Changes could soon be coming to the way law enforcement officers are trained and disciplined in the state of Missouri.

This comes after Missourians were asked to fill out a survey with the Department of Public Safety. More than 2,000 Missourians, both civilians and law enforcement officers, completed the survey.

It could be the first time in five years that the department makes changes to training.

The public safety department and the Missouri Peace Officer Standards and Training Commission opened the survey in late August after protests and riots across the state and nation called for police reform.

“We were aware that this is the type of discussions and issues that are being raised across the nation,” DPS Communications Director Mike O’Connell said. “If there are any changes in the courses that (officers) have to take, this would affect every police officer or law enforcement officer in the state.”

Missouri wants to fix the relations between law enforcement and residents. The survey offered to residents asked questions like, “What is your concern with law enforcement?”

“The number one issues that we had that came up were de-escalation techniques, addressing implicit bias and then working to build a better relations with the community,” O’Connell said.

Law enforcement officers filled out a similar survey.

“And some of them raised the issue of maybe not all officers are as successful or as well-trained as some of the larger departments, or even some of the smaller departments,” O’Connell said.

O’Connell said the last time a change was made to the training for officers was five years ago after the protest and riots in Ferguson.

“There’s just a recognition across the country of that it’s a time to look at what could be done better,” O’Connell said.

After Gov. Mike Parson appointed more commissioners to POST, he suggested to them he wanted the commission to be more active.

“So it was a decision from leadership at the highest level that this is something we want to do the best job possible,” O’Connell said.

The POST Commission is made up of leaders from different law enforcement agencies across the state and is responsible for training at the 19 basic training academies across the state and continuing education.

Results from the public’s survey show most people have no concern at all with law enforcement; many others said there are too few officers.

In all, 1,683 civilians completed the survey and nearly 30% said they have no concerns, 27% said there are too few officers, 18% said the officers act in an unprofessional manner, 17% said the officers do not seem to be adequately trained and 7% said they’re concerned with the length of time it takes an officer to respond.

“Most of the people in the survey said they were satisfied and pleased with their local law enforcement and their interactions with police,” O’Connell said.

Law enforcement officers who said more training is needed for officers chose de-escalation and use of force as their top two focus areas. Of the 468 officers who took the survey, 225 said more training is needed.

Looking closer, 28% of officers said there needs to be more training in de-escalation and nearly 20% said use of force.

Additionally, 18% said there needs to be more training in community engagement, 13% said officers fail to report or intervene when misconduct was committed by another officer, 8% said reducing violent crime, 7% said recognition of implicit bias and 4% said prevention of racial profiling.

“They believe they are doing a pretty good job, but we did have officers saying they could use additional officers, more support and funding,” O’Connell said.

Currently in the state of Missouri, all law enforcement officers are required to complete continuing education training once a year.

The yearly 25-hour training for officers includes two hours of legal studies, two hours in technical studies, two hours of interpersonal perspectives, two hours of skill development involving firearms, 16 hours of any of the previous core curriculum areas and one hour of racial profiling awareness training.

The POST Commission meets Monday to discuss the recommendations from Missourians and law enforcement officers.

Commissioners could decide to make changes to the training officers receive at that meeting. If changes are made, there is still an approval process the changes have to go through, which means it could be months before law enforcement officers see any difference in their training.

If you didn’t get a chance to fill out the survey, DPS and POST late comments can be sent to dpsinfo@dps.mo.gov.

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