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Even Darren Wilson says the Ferguson Police Department is screwed up

St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney's Office

The Ferguson Police Department had a surprising critic in a new piece from the New Yorker: Darren Wilson, the former Ferguson cop who shot and killed Michael Brown on August 9 — nearly a year ago.

In a profile of Wilson by Jake Halpern, the ex-cop criticized Ferguson police for two of the same issues that movements like Black Lives Matter raised in the aftermath of the Brown shooting: Ferguson police weren't properly trained to avoid escalation, and they issued excessive traffic tickets against locals.

In one conversation, Wilson told Halpern that Ferguson police officers weren't trained how to properly communicate with residents, which sometimes caused situations to escalate:

Wilson says that he liked working in Ferguson, but after a year or so he discerned problems within the department. One day, he received a call about a woman screaming in the street. When he arrived on the scene, a rookie officer had already forced her onto the ground, arrested her, and handcuffed her. But the woman, the rookie had realized, hadn't deserved this treatment: she was having some kind of anxiety attack. "Now what?" he asked Wilson.

"You don't even know why you arrested somebody?" Wilson said. Then he recalled who the rookie's field-training officer had been. Wilson summed up that officer's approach as "Arrest them and figure it out later."

Wilson blamed the rookie's meagre training for his mistake. "He didn't learn how to talk," Wilson said.

Wilson also criticized his former colleagues for issuing too many tickets, which he said could lead to a "vicious cycle":

The Justice Department report on the city of Ferguson notes that police officers were punished when they didn't write enough tickets, and often issued multiple citations for a single stop. Wilson told me that he knew of an officer who had once issued sixteen. "What the hell is the point?" he asked me. He believed that such fines could create a "vicious cycle," in which people could not pay what they owed, then were fined further for missing payments. "That's almost abusive of power," he told me. I asked Wilson if he had issued multiple tickets. He said that he "usually" never wrote more than three.

These criticisms get to the two big critiques of the Ferguson Police Department in the aftermath of the Brown shooting. As the New Yorker pointed out, a recent survey by the Police Executive Research Forum found cadets usually get 58 hours of firearms training, 49 hours in defensive tactics, 10 hours in communication skills, and eight hours in de-escalation tactics. At the same time, new cops are charged with patrolling sometimes dangerous neighborhoods, and — particularly in St. Louis County, where Ferguson is — encouraged to issue as many fines as possible to raise revenue for local budgets.

Combined, these issues create an environment for unnecessary escalation: Officers are encouraged to make as many stops as possible, but they aren't adequately trained to calm situations without force. As a result, an otherwise routine stop can escalate into a violent confrontation that leaves somebody dead. These stops and shootings, in turn, build resentment toward police, especially in heavily patrolled black communities — leading to the kind of protests and fervor that have pushed Wilson and his wife, also an ex-cop from Ferguson, into hiding.

Read the New Yorker's full profile on Darren Wilson.