Ferguson Police Chief, Now An International 'Bad Guy,' Wants To Help His City Move Forward

08/29/2014 06:56 pm ET | Updated Aug 30, 2014
Ryan J. Reilly / The Huffington Post

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FERGUSON, Mo. -- Nearly three weeks after 18-year-old Michael Brown was killed by one of his police officers, Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson is a man under a lot of pressure.

In the immediate aftermath of the shooting, the chief's actions came under strong criticism. Against the recommendations of the Justice Department, he released a video allegedly showing Brown robbing a nearby convenience store shortly before his death -- even though Brown had been stopped for walking in the street, not because of the robbery. Jackson soon ceded much of his authority to police a large portion of Ferguson to other law enforcement agencies.

His officers have recently begun responding to calls in that area again. And the criticism over Jackson’s decisions in the Brown case has shifted to critiques of the lack of diversity within and training of the Ferguson police force.

Thursday night, inside a sweltering church just down the street from the Ferguson police station, there were calls for Jackson’s resignation during a forum hosted by NPR's Michel Martin.

Early Friday afternoon, when The Huffington Post caught up with the chief at the entrance to the police station, Jackson was busy responding to text messages from his peers, preparing for an expected Saturday demonstration around Brown’s death and arranging for officers to be trained in the use of body cameras that two companies have donated. He also recently got around to reading a fake op-ed published under his name on the satirical website The Onion and wanted to make sure people knew it wasn't him.

As he spoke with The Huffington Post, he occasionally paused to swing open the door for people entering the station: some there on business, another there to donate cases of drinks to the police dispatchers.

During the conversation, Jackson clarified contradictory statements he had previously made about whether Officer Darren Wilson believed that Brown might have been a suspect in a robbery when he stopped the teen, with Jackson stating definitively that Wilson did not connect Brown with the robbery and stopped him simply because he was walking down the middle of the street. (Whether Brown believed he was being stopped because of the incident at the liquor store is a separate question.)

Jackson also said that his officers still were not wearing name tags because protesters “that don’t want to be peaceful” would read the tags and start “taunting them” by name. “It kind of reduces that personal taunt and allows us to be generic,” Jackson said. He added that they would be wearing the name tags again soon.

Here’s what Jackson’s life is like these days, as told to The Huffington Post. His comments have been condensed and edited, and the order of some quotes has been rearranged:

"Daily life now is doing things like trying to get the body camera, meeting with various local and national leaders to try to set up various types of training, not just for us but for the region.

"We do the racial profiling training and the cultural diversity stuff, but it’s not enough. Obviously, it’s not enough.

"So what we want to do is get more of the training where officers, in the academy especially, can get a direct feel for what it’s like to be a young black male with the police behind them, you know, what it feels like. Try to get some of those firsthand stories.

"There’s a whole laundry list of training that’s really beneficial to get at this problem so that we can all live together peacefully. I’ve gotten reached out to people from Cincinnati, Sanford [the Florida town where Trayvon Martin was killed in 2012]. ... I’ve been texting back and forth. They had some really great programs. I don’t know if you remember in Cincinnati a young man was shot in the back, I guess, by a police officer, and they had sort of a similar -- well, nobody has really had anything like this, this bad. This is bad.

"A lot of what my life is right now is trying to move forward. Lots of meetings. I sat down with Akbar Muhammad [of the Nation of Islam] and some colleagues. Good conversations. I mean, they want me fired, but very friendly, open talk. They’re like, ‘Yeah, you’re not who we thought you were,’ you know, those kind of things.

"It was like a logistics meeting, really. We talked about, you know, where are we going to set up our tents, where are we going to put the trailer, can you feed us electricity, make sure you guys get water. They’re really committed to having this be peaceful.

"This week, we’re going back to normal. We’re going to wait and see how Saturday goes, and see if Sunday is calm. Our intent is to go back to normal operations on Monday with body cameras. At the end of the shift, all they have to do is -- everybody has a number, so they just put it in the docking station, and it goes into the server. We had two companies actually donate.

"Everyone who is on duty will be able to have one. It keeps people in check, being monitored, and it counts because a lot of times people make complaints that are way exaggerated -- you know, the officer was rude to me ... -- so it helps both sides. And it also helps if an officer has a manner that’s perceived as confrontational … we can train them. So it helps with training, it helps with internal affairs investigations, it helps with knowing what happens. If we’ve got a problem officer, and we get a complaint, and it just so happens that the camera is turned off during the complaint, there’s discipline there regardless. But it will help us. It will help us identify officers with problems or officers who are trending towards being problematic. It allows us to do some coaching, some training. It will take a lot of the guesswork out of what happens.

"When [outside officers] go in and show up for something like this [the unrest in Ferguson], the briefing needs to be more clear. Most of these people have a legitimate beef or a legitimate gripe; they’re asking legitimate questions. People with the weapons, those are the people we’re concerned about, not the people saying, ‘Hands up, don’t shoot.’ It’s a different agenda.

"What we’re doing now is we’re getting back in there. Understand that we’re been working with those neighborhood associations and trying to get them to take ownership of the city and be involved in activities. So when we’ve been back over there these past few days, people have been waving at us. People from the apartments have sent me goodies these past few days. Our history is better than this. So we’re back in there, we’re responding to calls -- as is the [Missouri State] Highway Patrol, they’re in that corridor. Sick case, stolen bicycle, the usual, just normal calls.

"We had a call that came out that said some peaceful protesters were being harassed by some not-so-peaceful protesters. That’s how the call came out. But anyway, [St. Louis] County [Police] is still in there. So we’re just going to try to transition back to normalcy. There’s been a grant from the county for businesses to try to rebuild -- I think it’s like a million dollars for Ferguson businesses affected.

"That QuikTrip, this was a grocery store for those thousand apartments that were back there and another 200 across the way. People could walk there to get their groceries, and it wasn’t one of those places that was going to dig you and charge you too much -- that happens in a lot of poor neighborhoods, places that just gouge you. This is just a regular QuikTrip that charges regular prices for groceries. And they wanted to keep that there because they had a really particular customer base. I don’t think they’ve decided yet. I think they’re waiting to see how this plays out in the long run.

"Thirty-five years in the community being the good guy, now I'm internationally the bad guy, that hurts. But it is what it is."

(Disclosure: Jackson also repeatedly apologized for actions of the officers who put a Huffington Post reporter and a Washington Post reporter under arrest inside a McDonald's on Aug. 13.)

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