Strengthening bonds in Ferguson
New Ferguson Police Department Chief of Police looks to improve relations between police and the community through open dialogue and interaction
By Charlotte Beard
“I am destined for greatness! If so later, why not now? Change does not happen overnight. In order to impact the BIG picture, focus on LITTLE victories. Know what you are worth, and then ask for it!”
That is the inscription on the LinkedIn profile of a law enforcement officer who demonstrated change during his service in Georgia and aims to demonstrate change now that he is part of Ferguson, Missouri.
Chief Jason P. Armstrong came to St. Louis from Forest Park, Georgia. He has been in St. Louis since July fulfilling his new role and his wife and two children are expected to join him here in St. Louis late October.
Armstrong’s journey to the Ferguson’s Police Department began when he was in North Carolina.
Armstrong stated, “I attended North Carolina Central University in Durham, NC. While I was at school, I learned about a program that the Department of Justice ran called the Police Corps. That program was geared towards getting more college educated police officers out on the streets across America. That’s what (took) me to Georgia. So, I went through the police academy (by way of) the Police Corps program and then started my career with the Forest Park Police Department.”
He served on the Forest Park Police Department for almost 18 years. He started his law enforcement career in October 2001. Armstrong started as a patrol officer before moving up in rank. In a few years he was elevated to the Special Operations Unit which was involved with high-crime areas, drug investigations and other vice investigations. Later he was promoted to sergeant.
“When I started with (Forest Park) in 2001, sergeant was the highest position that a black person had ever held in the police department. In 2011, I was promoted to lieutenant; I was the first black lieutenant that we ever had there. Then I was promoted to the rank of captain. I held the rank of captain for five or six years. In October (2018) I served as the interim Chief of Police for the department for a few months. I also served as the interim Major of Operations for the department before coming (to St. Louis) and taking this position.”
Armstrong shared of his past law enforcement career, he is most proud of all the benchmarks he was able to attain while in Georgia for the establishment of “hope” for others both in and outside the department. Many veteran officers who were African American talked to him about the culture of the Forest Park Department when he joined it. Armstrong stressed that they didn’t believe any African American would ever be promoted beyond sergeant in the department.
“Also, outside in the community, people would speak about those kinds of things – that there was no black representation,” stated Armstrong. “As I started to get promoted, as I started to reach some of those heights – it wasn’t just the gratification I accomplished for myself but so many people in that community had a sense of achievement also. They were seeing things happen that a lot of them thought they would never see happen in their lifetime in that city. To be a part of some of that change was definitely rewarding for me.”
One of Armstrong’s most recent actions to promote change in the Ferguson community, was his partnering of the Ferguson Police Department with Adopt a Block to present a viewing of “Walking While Black: Love Is the Answer” at the Ferguson Community Center last Tuesday. The “film of reconciliation” was a simultaneous broadcast across the United States showing communities and police departments. The viewing was followed by discussion.
“It was a great start to opening up dialogue about how we can better communicate with each other to form stronger bonds in our communities,” stated Armstrong. “This is only the beginning!”
Armstrong shared the primary goals he desires the Ferguson Police Department to fulfill.
“The number one goal is for us to get fully staffed. One of the things that I think has hurt this department over the years is that the department has been understaffed. We’re working hard right now to try filling the openings that we do have. We can look and see what we’re allocated for right now – is that sufficient to provide the quality level of service that we want to provide for our citizens here. So, number one is recruiting. We (must) get the people in here so we can better allocate our resources effectively. (Also), is the consent decree. What we have to deal with here at the department is that we have to get in compliance with the consent decree so that we can show that we are doing the things that we are supposed to be doing here.”
The primary focus for staffing at the department is the hiring of police officers. Armstrong shared that the department has some command staff positions that are currently open, as well as line officers.
To strengthen the relationship between law enforcement and the community, Armstrong encourages communication with the Ferguson community.
“I’m real big on communication and open dialog,” he stated. “If people have any issues or any problems in this community, I want them to know, and feel comfortable to reach out to me and get in contact with me so we can talk about those things. We have a lot of community events and neighborhood associations. I can’t make every meeting but I try to make as many of those meeting as possible so I can interact and talk with the citizens. (I want to) hear things that they have to say – what issues, problems, or complaints about what’s going on. That’s the only way this thing is going to get turned around and us headed in the right direction. It’s not just the police department working in isolation by itself. It (must) be a community effort. We (must) have partnerships and relationships with our residents, businesses, and our visitors who come to the city of Ferguson. So, that’s how we combat some of the problems, some of the crime that I am hearing about and I’m seeing. We all have to lend to the solutions to make things better around here.”
The best way to reach Armstrong is by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Armstrong encourages people who are interested in what is going on at the Ferguson Police Department to follow https://www.facebook.com/CityofFergusonPoliceDept. The page holds the department’s events and happenings with invites for the community. In addition, Armstrong welcomes the community to invite the police department to events and happenings around Ferguson that would allow them to interact and better know the citizens of Ferguson.
CUTLINE: Submitted photo Ferguson Chief of Police Jason P. Armstrong came to St. Louis from Forest Park, Georgia. He has been in St. Louis since July fulfilling his new role.