When will police presence be cut back in Ferguson, Missouri?

FERGUSON, Mo. - The streets of Ferguson were peaceful for another night Thursday, as protests and tensions were subsiding in the St. Louis suburb where unrest erupted after a white police officer fatally shot unarmed black teenager Michael Brown almost two weeks ago.

About 100 people gathered Thursday evening, walking in laps near the spot where Brown was shot on Aug. 9. Some were in organized groups, such as clergy members.

Police said there had been seven arrests, mainly for failure to disperse. That compares with six on Wednesday night and 47 the previous night - providing hope among law enforcement leaders that tensions were beginning to wane.

Temperatures topped out at 97 degrees in the city Thursday but, as Missouri Highway Patrol Capt. Ron Johnson pointed out to reporters early Friday, "Temperatures did not heat up on the streets of Ferguson tonight because of the common influence of good people."

Johnson was put in charge of security in Ferguson when the protests got raucous and police tactics were heavily criticized.

He said police "had to respond fewer incidents" Thursday, there were "no Molotov cocktails, no fires, no shootings -- we did not see a single handgun. Again tonight, we deployed no tear gas, no mace."

Despite the smaller, more peaceful demonstrations, the police presence in the city remains heavy, and some residents are wondering why, reports CBS St. Louis station KMOV-TV.

Authorities say officers have to be on guard against what police are calling "repeat agitators." Johnson has blamed what he calls a small number of people for inciting trouble.

"It's more a positive vibe now and that is how it should be," one resident told KMOV.

 

Johnson told the station said calm still needs to be restored to West Florissant Avenue, the scene of the nightly protests. Brown was shot just off West Florissant.

"We are going to scale back (the police presence) when we know that this community is safe, and these businesses are safe at night when they close their doors," Johnson said.

While he's had conversations with county police about reducing the number of officers, the county police feel they're not quite ready to take that step, he told KMOV.

Johnson said there are still criminal acts occurring that the press and public don't see.

"We hear threats like, 'I'll kill you. I've got something for you.' Those are threats. So if you're walking down the street and tell me, 'I've got something for you, and I'm going to put it out,' I don't think I'm going to wait for you to put it out," Johnson said of possible criminals.

Gov. Jay Nixon ordered the Missouri National Guard, which arrived Monday, to begin withdrawing as flare-ups have eased. "I feel we're making progress," Nixon told CBS St. Louis radio station KMOX-AM, noting that a state of emergency remained in effect in Ferguson.

Johnson said Thursday a visit to Ferguson Wednesday by Attorney General Eric Holder let people know their voices had been heard.

Several protesters were still calling Thursday night for St. Louis County prosecutor Bob McCulloch to be removed from the case. Some question McCulloch's ability to be unbiased since his father, mother and other relatives worked for St. Louis police. His father was killed while responding to a call involving a black suspect.

McCulloch reiterated Thursday that he has no intentions of stepping aside, and urged Nixon to decide once and for all if he will act on the calls for his ouster. While Nixon said this week he is not asking McCulloch to recuse himself, a McCulloch aide, Ed Magee, said the governor "didn't take an actual position one way or the other."

McCulloch said in a statement Nixon must "end this distraction" or risk a delay in resolving the investigation.

A grand jury began considering evidence this week to determine whether the officer who shot Brown, Darren Wilson, should be charged. Magee said there was no timeline for the process, but it could take weeks.

Federal authorities have also launched an independent investigation into Brown's death, and U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill told The Associated Press that all of the physical evidence from the case was being flown Thursday from St. Louis to the FBI forensics lab in Quantico, Virginia. The evidence includes shell casings and trajectories, blood patterns and clothing, the Missouri Democrat said.

"The only thing you have to test the credibility of eyewitnesses to a shooting like this is in fact the physical evidence," McCaskill said. "I'm hopeful the forensic evidence will be clear and will shed a lot more light on what the facts were."

McCaskill also announced that she will lead a Senate hearing next month to look into the militarization of local police departments after criticism of the earlier law enforcement response to the protests in Ferguson.

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