More than two weeks after the police shooting of an unarmed black man sparked protests and looting in Ferguson, Mo., outside police agencies brought in to resolve the crisis announced Wednesday that they have restored the peace and have started scaling back their presence.
Missouri State Highway Patrol Capt. Ron Johnson announced at what he described as his last daily briefing that troopers and St. Louis County police have dismantled their command center on the troubled stretch of West Florissant Avenue, site of numerous nighttime protests in the St. Louis suburb.
The announcement comes days after the governor deactivated National Guard troops sent in to help quell the violence that followed Michael Brown’s shooting Aug. 9 by a white Ferguson police officer, Darren Wilson, 28.
“Peace could not have been achieved without this community coming together,” Johnson said in a televised news conference.
Johnson noted that protests in recent days have been peaceful with few arrests, including one Tuesday night, the day after Brown’s funeral.
Police made scores of arrests during the last two weeks along West Florissant, investigating five shootings, Johnson said, noting that the shootings did not involve protesters.
Many of those arrested came from outside the area, but Johnson said that “it would be unfair to say all the people who visited our state were a problem.” Some outsiders, he said, turned out to be peacemakers.
Johnson emphasized that “not a single bullet was fired by police.”
Police have drawn criticism for firing bean bags, smoke and tear gas canisters into the crowds of protesters. At the briefing, St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar defended the crowd-control methods, saying they caused less long-term injuries than nightsticks and police dogs.
“It’s unpleasant, but at the end of the day, there aren’t any long-lasting effects,” Belmar said.
Belmar also defended the use of military equipment by local police. The White House announced Saturday a review of the practice providing military-grade equipment to local law enforcement agencies.
Belmar said St. Louis County police need military equipment to patrol “very urban area,” mitigate “certain terrorist activities” and handle armed barricades and search warrants.
Johnson did not defend the military tactics, emphasizing instead the success of community policing over the last two weeks.
“The first Sunday I stood on that hill I wondered if there would be a day when law enforcement and the community would see peace together,” he said. He added that in recent days he has seen police playing with local children, talking to residents and protesters on the street.
“I’ve seen police listening and I’ve seen arms come unfolded,” he said.
A grand jury is considering whether to indict Wilson in connection with the shooting.
Johnson said troopers and county police will continue to patrol and respond to emergency calls on West Florissant.
On Tuesday, Johnson said he visited residents in Canfield Green, the Ferguson apartment complex where Brown died. He ate lunch at a restaurant on West Florissant, “away from the cameras and just the stress of the last two weeks.”
He talked to residents and business owners. Although there’s more work to be done rebuilding trust between the people and the police in this city of about 21,000, he decided it was time to scale back the police presence.
“I truly believe that we’re headed to a good place,” Johnson said.
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