Missouri police recruits must soon take course on history of policing minority communities

    BRIEF

    The Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) Commission met on Oct. 6, 2020 and voted to require training on de-escalation techniques and implicit bias. (Photo from Missouri Department of Public Safety)

    New recruits in Missouri’s law-enforcement academies will soon be required to take a two-hour course on the history of policing in minority communities. 

    The Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) Commission — which sets the minimum standards for the basic training in Missouri — unanimously approved the measure on Tuesday.

    A POST subcommittee spent the last two months studying the issue, according to a release by the Missouri Department of Public Safety.

    Lincoln University Police Chief Gary Hill

    “I believe providing this training in the history of policing for Missouri officers can help create a better understanding of some of the underlying reasons for conflict and distrust that can exist between law enforcement and minority communities, and can help create better relations going forward,” said POST Commissioner and Lincoln University Police Chief Gary Hill, who is Black. 

    However, Heather Taylor, a recently retired homicide detective who served in predominantly-Black neighborhoods in St. Louis, said two hours is not nearly enough. 

    “It’s a single step, but it needs to be a sprint to improve race relations between law enforcement and disenfranchised communities like mine,” said Taylor, who is also Black. 

    The two-hour curriculum is currently being developed, according to the state’s press release. Per state statute, Missouri law enforcement officers must receive at least 600 hours of basic training. 

    The new curriculum will be implemented six months after the commission shares it with Missouri’s 20 law enforcement basic training academies, the release states. 

    Heather Taylor, a retired homicide detective from St. Louis

    Taylor is the former president of the Ethical Society of Police (ESOP), a police association with majority Black members in the St. Louis area who advocate for racial equity. 

    “Dedicating only two hours out of 600 hours required to become a police officer in Missouri explains why Missouri police officers are 95 percent more likely to stop Black motorists than white motorists but less likely to find contraband with Black motorists,” Taylor said. “I won’t give them a pat on the back for this.” 

    Taylor was pointing to the Missouri Attorney General’s annual vehicle stops report, which is mandated by law to report racial disparities in car stops every year. 

    The 2019 report shows a rise in disparities in Black drivers being stopped from 91 percent to a high of 95 percent. This is the 19th year in a row that the attorney general’s report has shown that Black motorists in Missouri are far more likely to be stopped and searched than white motorists, though less likely to be carrying contraband when searched.

    ESOP also pushed back on the commission’s vote in October. At that meeting, the commission voted to require two hours in annual training in de-escalation techniques and recognizing implicit bias for all Missouri law enforcement officers. Starting in 2022, officers will take a one-hour course in each area as part of their required 24-hours of annual continuing education training.

    Taylor said again that this small amount of de-escalation and anti-bias training is not sufficient to address the gravity of the problem.

    However, commission chair and Platte County Sheriff Mark Owen said, “We believe these training changes, which were unanimously approved by the POST Commission, will lead to better interactions between officers and the public and can help strengthen relations with the communities we in law enforcement serve.”