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St. Louis County Police Chief offers New York cops tips after Ferguson

Ellen Abbott
St Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar had a major role in restoring order after the shooting of an unarmed black teenager in Ferguson, Missouri in August 2014.

Law enforcement was forever changed after a police shooting in Ferguson, Missouri in August 2014. There are lessons to be learned from the incident, according to the police chief who played a role restoring peace after the police shooting of Michael Brown and the violence that followed.

At a seminar in Syracuse, St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar told police public safety leaders from across New York state that relationships between police and the community are key to keeping the peace in case something like Ferguson happens.

“I don’t think anything replaces that police officer on the street and coming out and being empathetic," Belmar said. "Even if you have to do your job and make arrests and other things, be professionals and treat other people the way we want to be treated.”

An unarmed black teenager, Michael Brown, was shot and killed by a white police officer in the suburb of St. Louis two and a half years ago, prompting protests that roiled the area for weeks. Belmar says the shooting and protests that followed were seminal moments that have forever changed police work, and the way people perceive police officers.

"It was one of those moments, and our challenge is to get better because of it and have police departments serve and protect even better than we were before," he said. 

Belmar says that can be achieved through police training and fostering relationships between police and the community. His warning to local police agencies, Ferguson can happen anywhere so those relationships could be the most important thing.

"If you really believe you have an issue then get out in front of it," Belmar said. "Make sure you’re forming those relationships, you’re really on top of it so when we hit times of crisis, we already have that relationship. And I like to say even a bad relationship is better than no relationship."

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.