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Ferguson police chief working to gain public trust

▶ Watch Video: Ferguson police chief on community trust and reform proposals

Nearly seven years after 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot and killed by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, the current police chief of the city says his department is working hard to win the public’s trust. 

“There is no policy that you can enact that will do away with the fear that people have or that officers have,” Chief Jason Armstrong said in an interview with CBSN. “We have to create more opportunities for positive interactions that are not solely based on police functions.”

Armstrong, who became Ferguson’s police chief in 2019, worked in law enforcement in Georgia at the time of Brown’s death. He said local community members’ concerns “really ignited me to get out in the community and be more involved, and kind of be the face of leading the efforts to try to build up those strong relationships between the community and the police department.”

Following historic protests around the world over the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis one year ago, confidence in policing dropped to the lowest reported level since 1994, according to a Gallup poll. Approximately 48% of Americans in the survey said they had “quite a lot” or a “great deal” of confidence in police, which was the first time in the policing poll’s 27-year history it fell below a majority. 

Armstrong said a “higher level of accountability” may help restore some of that lost confidence. 

“We can enact all the policies in the world that say ‘we can’t do this,’ but at the end of the day it still comes down to the decisions that people make in the heat of the moment,” the chief said. “A lot of that comes back to the training that officers get and also just who we hire into the profession.” 

Along with new policies and training initiatives in the police force that have been implemented in recent years, he said tackling bigger issues like internal, implicit bias is important as well. 

“I do think that is something that we can— we can train away. We will never be perfect at it, but I think we can do an awfully good job at handling it,” Armstrong said. “The first step in doing that is just recognizing that we all have bias.” 

As a member of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives and the International Association of Chiefs of Police, he said that his colleagues have discussed “reimagining” policing by assessing the relationship between law enforcement and all communities. 

Armstrong said there has been a “vigorous commitment” from officers recently to be more inclusive and to “meet people where they are.” He mentioned that he has partnered with local nonprofits since becoming police chief in order to promote civic engagement. 

“We have to create more time, more space and more energy into those interactions so we can get to know people better and people can get to know us better,” the chief said.

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