From a Front Page Washington Post Article Sunday, August 24, 2014

“FERGUSON, Mo. — The small city of Jennings, Mo., had a police department so troubled, and with so much tension between white officers and black residents, that the city council finally decided to disband it. Everyone in the Jennings police department was fired. New officers were brought in to create a credible department from scratch.”

Jennings, MO, is a mile away from Ferguson and has a similar racial make-up.  The article goes on to state:

“Racial tension was endemic in Jennings, said Rodney Epps, an African American city council member.You’re dealing with white cops, and they don’t know how to address black people,” Epps said. “The straw that broke the camel’s back, an officer shot at a female. She was stopped for a traffic violation. She had a child in the back [of the] car and was probably worried about getting locked up. And this officer chased her down Highway 70, past city limits, and took a shot at her. Just ridiculous.”
“Police faced a series of lawsuits for using unnecessary force, Stichnote said. One black resident, Cassandra Fuller, sued the department claiming a white Jennings police officer beat her in June 2009 on her own porch after she made a joke. A car had smashed into her van, which was parked in front of her home, and she called police. The responding officer asked her to move the van. “It don’t run. You can take it home with you if you want,” she answered. She said the officer became enraged, threw her off the porch, knocked her to the ground and kicked her in the stomach.
The department paid Fuller a confidential sum to settle the case, she said.”
“The Jennings department also had a corruption problem. A joint federal and local investigation discovered that a lieutenant had been accepting federal funds for drunken-driving checks that never happened.”
After the entire Jennings’ police force was disbanded by the City Council and a new one constituted in 2011, there has been remarkable shift in both policing Jennings and community confidence in their police department.  Interestingly, the online Post article does not include the following that appears in its Sunday print addition:
“Community policing – getting to know residents and building trusting relationships with them – was key to rebuilding the police force in Jennings, according to Lt. Jeff Fuesting, who took over as commander of the force when the city disbanded the original department in March 2011, said he knew he and his fellow officers can’t do their jobs of solving and preventing crimes without the community’s faith and trust. 
“Community policing is really big here,” Fuesting said.  “We have more residents reporting crimes, giving their names.  That really helps us solve crimes.
“Crime is down, too, with serious crimes, such as homicides, stabbings and rapes, down by a third since March 2011 state statistics show.  Fuesting also increased the number of African American officers from two to six on the 33-member force.”

The article is more about the St. Louis community’s support for Officer Wilson than what I’ve excerpted here, but I find it interesting that the police-community relations in Jennings pre-2011 seem to mirror those of Ferguson today.  There is more in the Post’s print version about how the change in Jennings’ police force has been successful and I’m wondering why it isn’t included in the online version since it shows how community attitudes and a community’s relationship with its police department can be turned around. 

Context, it seems, matters.


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