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Ferguson lessons learned in Indianapolis at National Public Safety Forum

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National Public Safety Forum at the Central Branch of the Indianapolis Public Library

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (March 9, 2016) – The man who helped the Department of Justice help figure out what went wrong when Ferguson, Missouri, police mishandled the community reaction to a police action shooting in 2014 shared those lessons with the National Public Safety Forum at the Central Branch of the Indianapolis Public Library.

The forum, co-sponsored by IMPD and the School of Public and Environmental Affairs at IUPUI, introduced national policing experts to a local audience comprised of officers, commanders, researchers and policy makers.

Metro Police Chief Troy Riggs said public safety leaders from six states, along with a university audience in Canada, participated in the forum.

Dr. David Carter of Michigan State University sat down with the prime public safety and police leadership, along with their officers, from throughout St. Louis County to understand how the killing of Michael Brown by a Ferguson police officer sparked weeks of unrest and national outrage over fatal police shootings.

“Police are the community and the community are police,” Carter told the forum as he recounted the miscommunication that lack of familiarity that led up to the Ferguson crisis.

“And what they needed was, as we talked to members of the community, is they wanted to talk to the police. They wanted to understand that the police were there to help them,” said Carter. “That’s what the citizens of Ferguson and St. Louis County wanted: tell me something so I can make a decision about what to do. If they had been more open with the community and had told the community what was going on, there would still have been demonstrations but there would have been less conflict.”

Carter said the small police department, in a county overwhelmed by 92 different towns, villages, cities and government entities, had no social media presence which left it vulnerable to rumors and calls for protest that rocketed around the world.

The Ferguson Police Department was undermanned and untrained and unequipped for protests and its officers had no clear guideline as to what was constitutionally acceptable free speech versus a clear and present danger to the public peace.

IMPD Commander Karen Arnett, who oversaw Indianapolis’ downtown district and her share of Saturday nights, Indiana Black Expo Celebrations and large crowds for more than five years, said the lessons of Ferguson were not lost on Metro police.

“I believe it was a national learning opportunity to better learn what we’re doing,” said Arnett. “People want to hear, they want you to listen to what they have to say and we’re so used to in our profession asking the questions but we also, over the last few years, we’ve learned we have to take a moment and listen whether it’s the young people or adults or seniors, we have to listen.”

IUPUI researchers will be monitoring IMPD’s holistic approach to solving crime, seeking answers to mental health, food security and quality of life issues, and publishing those findings.