JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Missouri is one step closer to changing how law enforcement officers are trained and adding background checks to the hiring process.
After nearly a three-hour meeting Monday, the Peace Officer Stands and Training (POST) Commission voted to make three changes when it comes to officer training. The commission also voted to start looking into mandating law enforcement agencies to conduct background checks. These changes come after more than 2,000 people, both Missourians and law enforcement officers completed a survey at the end of August.
This could be the first time in five years that changes are being made to police officer training. The last time changes were made was after the protests and riots in Ferguson.
Currently, under Missouri state law, law enforcement agencies do not have to conduct background checks for officers.
“They happen, but there’s no set standards for it,” POST Chairman Sheriff Mark Owen said. “There’s a lot of places that don’t do that and they may hire somebody that we’ve turned down for a reason, but then I see them get hired somewhere else.”
POST commissioners voted Monday to form a committee to study methods that would mandate every agency to conduct background checks.
Director of the Missouri Department of Public Safety (DPS) said in order to make background checks a requirement, there would have to be legislation.
“The requirement, or the lack thereof, of backgrounds to be completed on officers who may be viewed as jumping from one agency to another,” Missouri Department of Public Safety Director Sandy Karsten said.
The commission also voted to require one-hour of training on de-escalation techniques and implicit bias training for an officer’s continuing education program every year.
Currently in the state of Missouri, all law enforcement officers are required to complete continuing education training once a year. The yearly 24-hour training for officers includes two hours of legal studies, two hours in technical studies, two hours of interpersonal perspectives, two hours of skill development involving firearms, 16 hours of any of the previous core curriculum areas and one hour of racial profiling awareness training.
“I think if you look at policing across the nation one of those things is community engagement,” Karsten said.
Another new addition, officers in training have to learn about the history of policing in minority communities.
“Right now, we have issues between law enforcement and minorities, and this is not something new,” Cole County Sheriff John Wheeler said during the public comment section. “This is something that’s been going on for a long time. There’s no law that’s going to pass that’s going to fix this.”
“Our responses are reflective of the citizens that we serve, and we try to provide services that they want and a way they are appreciative of receiving those,” Karsten said.
Owen said the commission is not done reviewing the survey.
“Our hopes are to revisit the survey and just analyze it and see if additional changes are needed,” Owen said.
The board also voted to add a new training academy in Jefferson City at Lincoln University, but before it’s official, the university has to go through a year of probation and then Karsten has the final say.
The POST Commission is made up of leaders from different law enforcement agencies across the state and is responsible for the training at the 19 basic training academies across the state and the continuing education program.
As for the changes to the law enforcement training, it now must go through a state approval process. Karsten said it will be next year when officers can see the changes.
The commission voted to hold a special meeting in December to see how the committees are doing and to see if other changes need to be made before lawmakers return to Jefferson City in January.