Ferguson Police Tactics Challenged as Conflict Evolved

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from The Wall Street Journal,

Critics Fault Authorities For Lack of Coordination.

A week into sometimes violent protests here, a police shift change one evening made the crowd visibly restless. It was, in part, their reaction to something simple: the new officers wore all-black uniforms, instead of the blue shirts and trousers of those already in place.

For an operation that has been criticized for being overly militarized, the mismatched uniforms that stirred up the crowd, who believed the police were preparing a crackdown rather than just bringing in fresh officers, exposed a more pressing problem—a lack of unity among the various departments trying to work together in a seemingly improvisational process.

The uniform issue was relatively minor compared with the criticism leveled at authorities after officers pointed high-powered rifles at the crowd. Yet both are included in a litany of strategies police and officials tried, and often changed or scrapped, while working in the crucible of a fast-moving conflict.

“Changing conditions often requires a change in approaches, especially in a difficult and fluid situation like the one in Ferguson,” said Scott Holste, spokesman for Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon who has also tested a few tactics and tinkered with them to find solutions to quelling the unrest.

On Thursday, Mr. Nixon said he would begin pulling the National Guard out of the mix, following several nights of relative calm, with only a few dozen hard-core demonstrators being cleared from the street late at night. In the wake of the Aug. 9 shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown by a police officer, Mr. Nixon had given authority over security to the state police, declared a midnight-to-5 a.m. curfew and then called in the Guard.

“What did work was community policing, reaching out to seniors and community leaders. That’s when you saw things turn around,” said St. Ann Chief of Police Aaron Jimenez, whose officers have been involved in securing Ferguson.

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