Reforms needed to respond to Ferguson, state attorney general says

Missouri should limit public release of video from police body cameras, tighten state law on police use of deadly force and provide scholarships for minority police candidates, Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster said last week.

The recommendations follow roundtable meetings last fall in Kansas City and in St. Louis.

“This is one way the frustrations on the streets of Missouri’s urban areas can bring positive change in the policing of our community,” Koster said of the recommendations.

The proposed changes respond to the Ferguson, Mo., shooting last summer when a white police officer killed an unarmed black teen.

“With these recommendations, I believe we have an opportunity to address many issues to improve relations of law enforcement and the communities they serve,” Koster said in his written statement.

After the Ferguson shooting and other cases elsewhere, police in more departments are starting to wear body cameras.

The report supports that but says the Missouri Sunshine Law must be updated so the videos “not lead to a new era of voyeurism and entertainment television at the expense of Missourians’ privacy.”

For instance, it states, policies are needed “to respect the dignity and privacy” of those reporting domestic violence or sexual assault, of family members working with police to find a missing child, or of confidential informants or terrified witnesses.

The state law allowing police use of deadly force should also be updated to comply with a 1985 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, the report states.

That ruling states that deadly force can be used to prevent escape if a suspect “threatens the officer with a weapon or there is probable cause to believe he has committed a crime involving the infliction or threatened infliction of serious physical harm.”

Missouri’s much broader law allows a police officer to use deadly force when needed to make an arrest for any felony or attempted felony.

The scholarship fund for potential officers is intended to remove economic barriers and promote diversity among police.

The lack of minority officers was an issue in the Ferguson shooting and others, and police often have trouble recruiting minority officers.

The report also says cities must comply with a state law that prohibits them from getting more than 30 percent of annual operating revenue from fines and court costs for traffic offenses.

The excessive tickets and fines can be a burden on the poor and hurt relations with police.

But the report states, “Numerous municipalities have taken a casual approach to compliance with the reporting requirements” related to the 30 percent limit.

It also recommends a statewide task force be created to review Missouri’s annual Vehicle Stops Report, including the kind of data collected and penalties for non compliance.

The full report  

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