Prior to [Thursday] morning, there were at least four different police departments on the ground in Ferguson at any given time: the Ferguson police themselves, the St. Louis County police (where Ferguson is located), police from the City of St. Louis, and police from the Missouri Highway Patrol. Even after the St. Louis County police were withdrawn on Thursday, that still leaves three agencies. At the press conference Ferguson police chief Tom Jackson held Wednesday—the first press conference since the unrest on Sunday—he was asked who is in charge of making the decision to tear-gas and shoot rubber bullets at protesters and use flashbangs. […]So no one is truly in charge and no one is accountable. That's a constantly shifting responsibility that seems to be intentional and something that cops there are taking advantage of. Consider that the Ferguson Police Department refused to provide any information about the names and badge numbers of the officers who arrested reporters Wesley Lowery and Ryan Reilly. Just to show how out-of-control that situation is, here's the report from a Los Angeles Times reporter, who is also in Ferguson:
Here's the transcript of the exchange (emphasis added):Reporter: Who makes decision to tear gas (inaudible)?
Jackson: The commander on the scene.
Reporter: What agency is he from? Who's in charge?
Jackson: Sometimes it's highway patrol, St. Louis County, us, St. Louis City...
Reporter: So when something goes down on West Florissant (inaudible) at night, police (inaudible) from different agencies there, there's one person in charge of all of them, or (inaudible)?
Jackson: There's one incident commander each night.
Reporter: So that commander rotates, it's not the same guy.
That lack of accountability in Ferguson was demonstrated Wednesday and Thursday. In his press conference Wednesday, Jackson promised that protesters would be allowed to gather, even after sunset, provided they were peaceful. But the guns and the armored vehicles and the snipers were out in broad daylight. And when sunset came, and protesters were standing peacefully where they'd been standing for hours, the police started demanding they retreat.
Until there's a real chain of command established in Ferguson, until all the officers from all the different departments are reporting to one person, this is going to be continue to be a dangerous fiasco.