How your Agency can prevent another Ferguson

cop hugs protester

A Portland cop hugs a Ferguson protestor (photo credit Johnny Nguyen)

The recent Ferguson decision has caused even more of a rift between officers and the communities they serve. While it’s impossible to go back in the past and figure out exactly what happened during the shooting, agencies can and should learn from Ferguson. Below are some suggested solutions. (Feel free to add your own solutions in the comments at the bottom of the page.)

First and foremost, the United States has some of the best trained officers in the world. Staying on top of your training and being up to date on your rules and procedures will keep you safe and limit your agency liability should an incident occur.

The first issue at hand during the Ferguson incident was insufficient covering and removal of the body. When Brown was fatally shot, his body was not covered or removed from the scene for four hours. While a body remaining on scene for hours is not that uncommon, the fact that the body was in plain sight in a public place resulted in a horrified public response. The people reacted by taking photos, video, and alerting the media.
Solution: Within weeks of the incident, Ferguson PD bought professional supplies designed to cover the scene of a crime from the public. The lesson here is to be prepared before an incident occurs. If your agency does not have an on-hand solution and a situation arises, it’s time to get creative. A pop up canopy from Walmart or a sporting goods store will hide the view from above the scene, while cars and curtains can conceal the body from the sides.

Another issue was a lack of immediate evidence reporting. The examiner at the scene noted that they hadn’t been able to take pictures at the scene because the camera had a dead battery. Also, the first officer who interviewed Wilson didn’t take any sort of notes, citing, “I didn’t take notes because at that point in time I had multiple things going through my head besides what Darren was telling me.”
Solution: It is standard procedure to not give a statement until your attorney is at hand. However, if a statement must be given, having a complete mobile tool on hand offers a solution. Such a device can go anywhere with an officer and be turned on to assist in the collection of documentation of evidence, capturing of photos and video, recording of statements and just taking notes. This eases some of the accusations of failure to document important pieces of evidence. This device can then be given to your attorney to advance your investigation. The same device would have picture taking abilities and can aid first responders in documenting the crime scene without having to deal with late arrivers or changing conditions.

Finally, as we are all aware, there was no clear video evidence leading up to and during the shooting. This is still causing a large amount of unrest and disputes as to whether witness and defense testimony was valid and truthful.
Solution: Body cameras would be helpful to both officers and suspects in situations such as these. A well placed body camera can show, through an officer’s eyes, what was happening at a scene and can provide a deeper understanding of his/her actions than other forms of evidence. Let’s be honest, not all officers are good at articulating the threat they felt or saw. A body camera often helps the public see through their eyes what you saw, heard and to a degree felt at the time of an incident. Body cameras have also been shown to lessen aggressive behavior in both officers and suspects, as both parties know that they are being recorded and do not want to act in an incriminating way.

Better reporting equals better justice, and with just a few simple steps, you can protect yourself while helping to make your community safer. More and more grant funding for trainings, new technologies, and body cameras are on the rise. This is making it easier than ever to make a positive mark on your agency and community.

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