Alan Eickhoff, Interim Police Chief in Ferguson, Talks About the City, Being a Police Officer

© Scott Olson/Getty Images A Ferguson police officer separates pro-police and anti-police demonstrators outside the Ferguson police station on March 15, 2015 in Ferguson, Mo.
© Scott Olson/Getty Images A Ferguson police officer separates pro-police and anti-police demonstrators outside the Ferguson police station on March 15, 2015 in Ferguson, Mo.

Alan “Al” Eickhoff, interim police chief in Ferguson, Mo., took over the embattled department in March after former Chief Tom Jackson resigned amid investigations into how police handled the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown. 

Eickhoff, 59, had joined the department as assistant chief five days before Brown’s shooting Aug. 9 by Officer Darren Wilson. Previously, he spent four years with the nearby Creve Coeur Police Department and 32 years with the St. Louis County Police Department.

After a grand jury decided in November not to indict Wilson in Brown’s death, riots erupted in Ferguson. Then in March, officials from the U.S. Department of Justice said Ferguson police had persistently and repeatedly violated the constitutional rights of African-Americans. That led to the firing of the court clerk and the resignation of two officers, all of whom had sent racist emails, according to the report. The city manager and a municipal judge also resigned in the aftermath of the shooting.

Eickhoff recently discussed the challenges facing his department. Below is an excerpt, edited for length and clarity.

Q: What is the toughest part of being a police officer in Ferguson now?

Everybody feels there’s this big lack of trust between the citizens and the police, so we’re trying to develop that trust. The other thing is, everybody is watching you. If you get out of your car, there’s people filming you with phones, there’s media — so you feel like you’re being scrutinized.

I tell the officers: “If you’re doing your job right, you don’t have to worry about it. You can’t be afraid to do your job. If you treat everybody with respect, treat everybody nice, a lot of times on a traffic stop or anything like that, it goes a long way.”

There’s a lot of stress. … Everyone wonders, “Could I be the next Darren?” It’s hard on the officer, and it affects their families too.

We’ve had a couple families (that) have been uprooted and had to leave town. The kids say, “Dad, why do we have to move?” “Because I don’t think it’s safe.” It wears on any officer.

Q: What would you like the Ferguson community to know about your department? What would you like the country to know?

A: Right now when you talk to people outside of our area, a lot of people believe Ferguson is a racist police department. Unfortunately, I can’t go into the (Department of Justice) report. I would have a field day with the DOJ report.

There were some questions about why we didn’t have more minorities. We didn’t have a high turnover rate. Now recently we have been losing officers due to retirement. We lost two due to the email incident.

We have officers who take pride in the community, who have kids go to school in the community. A lot of the interaction with protesters was not our department: the tear gas, (protesters) were saying they were pointing rifles at them. A lot of that was the unified command down on West Florissant (Avenue).

Any time anything bad happens in Ferguson, it’s Ferguson’s fault even if it isn’t our department. When all this kicked off, we didn’t have riot helmets or gas masks — we were pretty much a bedroom community. All this was new to us.

St. Louis County, those other departments, assisted us. And all those things they did saved lives. Tear gas may irritate your eyes, but long term it doesn’t harm you. To have … violent clashes during those three days (following Brown’s shooting) and not lose a life is pretty impressive.

Q: When people stop you on the street in Ferguson, what do they say?

A: One of the things I get from most of the community when I’m out either at a restaurant or talking to businesses is, “You guys are doing a good job.”

We’ve had two events on recent weekends (a 10K run and spring festival) and the turnout has been tremendous. The community supports us.

A lot of people want to talk about the DOJ report, which I can’t discuss because of the litigation. But what I do tell them is do not believe everything in the DOJ report because the people doing the investigations are not policemen.

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Source: Los Angeles Times | Molly Hennessy-Fiske

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