- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 3, 2015

A Department of Justice review of the law enforcement response to unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, last summer offers a playbook of what police should not do when responding to large-scale demonstrations.

A lack of preexisting community relationships, insufficient leadership and communication strategies, and a reliance on militarized police tactics — including the deployment of canines as a form of crowd control — all contributed to an “uncoordinated and incomplete” response, according to the department report released Thursday.

The report evaluated actions taken by four departments at the heart of the action during the 17 days following the death of Michael Brown, an unarmed black 18-year-old who was fatally shot by a white police officer.

But the findings were most critical of the Ferguson Police Department, which the report noted had “no agency-wide efforts in place to manage the community reaction.”

“The fact that long-term relationships with the community were seemingly not developed over time led to devastating effects,” states the report, issued by the Justice Department’s Community Oriented Policing Services.

The struggles of police to balance their response to alternating peaceful protests and violent riots played out on live television, with officials coming under intense scrutiny for questionable tactics.

More than 50 police agencies were deployed to Ferguson to help manage large-scale protests that broke out in the days after Brown’s death. Through interviews with law enforcement and community members, the report reviewed the actions of Ferguson police as well as the St. Louis County Police Department, St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department, and the Missouri State Highway Patrol.

“The police response to the mass demonstrations was generally reactive and did not appear to establish a strategic approach to effectively mitigate the complexity of issues and respond more effectively to the mass gatherings,” the report states.

The report also took issue with the myriad of issues raised by the departments’ tactical response to protesters.

“The use of military weapons and sniper deployment atop military vehicles was inappropriate, inflamed tensions, and created fear among demonstrators,” the report states.

Another flashpoint of contention was the use of canine units at the initial crime scene. The use of dogs for crowd control by the Ferguson and St. Louis County police departments, while consistent with the agencies’ policies, “exacerbated tensions by unnecessarily inciting fear and anger among amassing crowds,” the report states.

The point of the Justice Department report, separate from a review that in March that criticized Ferguson’s profit-driven municipal court system and its police practices, was not to place blame for the mishaps that occurred during the heated and contentious standoffs but rather to provide an assessment other department’s could learn from, said Ronald L. Davis, director of the COPS office.

“It is our hope that the lessons learned in Ferguson will provide guidance to the more than 16,000 police departments around the country and will prepare these agencies to respond effectively and constitutionally to the challenges of mass demonstrations in the 21st century,” Mr. Davis wrote in the report.

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