Missouri police preparing for grand jury decision

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Missouri police preparing for grand jury decision
FERGUSON, MO - AUGUST 13: Police Chief Thomas Jackson fields questions related to the shooting death of teenager Michael Brown during a press conference on August 13, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. Brown was shot and killed by a Ferguson police officer on Saturday. Ferguson has experienced three days of violent protests since the killing. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
FERGUSON, MO - AUGUST 15: Demonstrators raise their hands as they gather on West Florissant Avenue to protest the shooting death of Michael Brown by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, on August 15, 2014. Eighteen-year-old unarmed teen was shot dead by police in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, Missouri on August 09, 2014. (Photo by Bilgin S. Sasmaz/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
FERGUSON, MO - AUGUST 15: Capt. Ronald Johnson (Front, 2nd R) of the Missouri State Highway Patrol, walks on West Florissant Avenue where demonstrators gather to protest the shooting death of Michael Brown by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, on August 15, 2014. Eighteen-year-old unarmed teen was shot dead by police in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, Missouri on August 09, 2014. (Photo by Bilgin S. Sasmaz/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
FERGUSON, MO - AUGUST 15: Demonstrators raise gather at West Florissant Avenue to protest the shooting death of Michael Brown by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, on August 15, 2014. Eighteen-year-old unarmed teen was shot dead by police in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, Missouri on August 09, 2014. (Photo by Bilgin S. Sasmaz/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
FERGUSON, MO - AUGUST 15: Capt. Ronald Johnson (3rd R) of the Missouri State Highway Patrol, is taken photo with a demonstrator on West Florissant Avenue during the protest over the shooting death of Michael Brown by a police officer, in Ferguson, Missouri, on August 15, 2014. Eighteen-year-old unarmed teen was shot dead by police in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, Missouri on August 09, 2014. (Photo by Bilgin S. Sasmaz/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
FERGUSON, MO - AUGUST 15: Capt. Ronald Johnson (R) of the Missouri State Highway Patrol, talks to police officers standing outside a market where Michael Brown allegedly stole some cigars before being killed by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, on August 15, 2014. Eighteen-year-old unarmed teen was shot dead by police in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, Missouri on August 09, 2014. (Photo by Bilgin S. Sasmaz/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
FERGUSON, MO - AUGUST 15: Demonstrators hold up signs as they gather at West Florissant Avenue to protest the shooting death of Michael Brown by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, on August 15, 2014. Eighteen-year-old unarmed teen was shot dead by police in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, Missouri on August 09, 2014. (Photo by Bilgin S. Sasmaz/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
FERGUSON, UNITED STATES - AUGUST 15: Police Chief Ronald Johnson (C) speaks to media about the latest developments on killing of Michael Brown by police nearly a week ago in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, United States on August 15, 2014. Police in Ferguson have changed their procedure for dealing with the protests after being chastised for a heavy-handed approach which has resulted in four days of violence. Police cars and officers on foot led the way during a protest march. (Photo by Bilgin S. Sasmaz/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Demonstrators raise their hands as they protest the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown on August 15, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. Michael Brown was killed in broad daylight on August 9, 2014, with witnesses and law enforcement providing conflicting accounts of how the 18-year-old lost his life. AFP PHOTO / Joshua LOTT (Photo credit should read Joshua LOTT/AFP/Getty Images)
Attorney Daryl D. Parks speaks about the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown during a news conference as Brown's stepfather Louis Head (2nd-R/blue shirt) and cousin Eric Davis (3rd-R/orange shirt), a cousin of Michael Brown, look on August 15, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. Michael Brown was killed in broad daylight on August 9, 2014 , with witnesses and law enforcement providing conflicting accounts of how the 18-year-old lost his life. AFP PHOTO / Joshua LOTT (Photo credit should read Joshua LOTT/AFP/Getty Images)
Demonstrators protest the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown on August 15, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. Michael Brown was killed in broad daylight on August 9, 2014, with witnesses and law enforcement providing conflicting accounts of how the 18-year-old lost his life. AFP PHOTO / Joshua LOTT (Photo credit should read Joshua LOTT/AFP/Getty Images)
Stills from camera http://t.co/FEcmKc3oGr
More from report http://t.co/7OyD2fgrI2
Page from police report http://t.co/xcz6nUKqY2
FERGUSON, MO - AUGUST 15: Demonstrators raise their hands during a rally on West Florissant Avenue to protest the shooting death of an unarmed teen by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, on August 15, 2014. Eighteen-year-old Michael Brown was shot dead by police in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, Missouri on August 09, 2014. (Photo by Bilgin S. Sasmaz/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
FERGUSON, MO - AUGUST 15: Demonstrators raise their hands during a rally on West Florissant Avenue to protest the shooting death of an unarmed teen by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, on August 15, 2014. Eighteen-year-old Michael Brown was shot dead by police in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, Missouri on August 09, 2014. (Photo by Bilgin S. Sasmaz/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
FERGUSON, MO - AUGUST 13: Police Chief Thomas Jackson fields questions related to the shooting death of teenager Michael Brown during a press conference on August 13, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. Brown was shot and killed by a Ferguson police officer on Saturday. Ferguson has experienced three days of violent protests since the killing. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
FERGUSON, MO - AUGUST 15: Demonstrators take part in a rally on West Florissant Avenue to protest the shooting death of an unarmed teen by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, on August 15, 2014. Eighteen-year-old Michael Brown was shot dead by police in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, Missouri on August 09, 2014. (Photo by Bilgin S. Sasmaz/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
FERGUSON, MO - AUGUST 15: Demonstrators take part in a rally on West Florissant Avenue to protest the shooting death of an unarmed teen by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, on August 15, 2014. Eighteen-year-old Michael Brown was shot dead by police in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, Missouri on August 09, 2014. (Photo by Bilgin S. Sasmaz/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
FERGUSON, MO - AUGUST 15: Demonstrators wearing Guy Fawkes masks, raise their hands during a rally on West Florissant Avenue to protest the shooting death of an unarmed teen by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, on August 15, 2014. Eighteen-year-old Michael Brown was shot dead by police in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, Missouri on August 09, 2014. (Photo by Bilgin S. Sasmaz/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 04: U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder leaves a news conference after announcing the Justice Department will launch a 'patterns and practice' investigation of the Ferguson, Missouri, police department at the department's headquarters September 4, 2014 in Washington, DC. Holder announced a federal civil rights investigation of the Furguson, Missouri, police department after white officer Darren Wilson from shot and killed unarmed black teenager Michale Brown last month. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
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FERGUSON, Mo. (AP) - Missouri police have been brushing up on constitutional rights and stocking up on riot gear to prepare for a grand jury's decision about whether to charge a white police officer who fatally shot a black 18-year-old in suburban St. Louis.

The preparations are aimed at avoiding a renewed outbreak of violence during the potentially large demonstrations that could follow an announcement of whether Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson will face a criminal trial for the Aug. 9 death of Michael Brown.

Police and protesters have repeatedly clashed since the shooting, which prompted a national conversation about race and police tactics. Images of officers in riot gear and armored vehicles confronting protesters have drawn widespread criticism.

Many protesters want Darren Wilson indicted for murder. Grand jury proceedings are secret, but legal analysts say recently leaked information about Wilson's testimony to investigators may be an attempt to prepare the public for the possibility that he might not be charged.

The decision could be made public within the next month.

In the meantime, law officers have adjusted their tactics for interacting more peacefully with protesters while also honing their procedures for quick, widespread arrests. They plan to have a large contingent of officers at the ready, but have been meeting with clergy, community leaders and students in hopes of building relationships that could ease tensions on the streets.

"I know there's a lot of anxiety, there's a lot of fear, anticipation" about that announcement, said Missouri State Highway Patrol Capt. Ron Johnson, who was put in charge of security in Ferguson in the days after Brown was killed and is now part of a coordinated command with local police. But "I have a lot of hope."

Law enforcement officers expect to receive at least a day's notice before a grand jury announcement. That should provide time for them to execute security plans but may also allow demonstrators to prepare.

"The moment I learn that there is, in fact, a non-indictment, then there's going to be an organized protest," said Eric Vickers, a black St. Louis attorney and civil rights activist.

Brown was unarmed when Wilson encountered him walking in the street with a friend. A scuffle ensued and Brown was shot multiple times. Witness accounts of what happened varied, with some people saying they saw Brown raise his hands as if in surrender.

Wilson told investigators he felt threatened while fighting with Brown from inside a police SUV, where an initial gunshot was fired, according to information provided to several news outlets by people described as familiar with the investigation, but otherwise not identified. After Brown fled the vehicle, Wilson said Brown turned around in threatening manner, prompting the officer to fire the fatal shots, according to those accounts of his testimony.

Wilson's description of events was leaked recently, as was an autopsy report that showed Brown had marijuana in his system and was shot in the hand at close range. Wilson has alleged Brown was trying to grab his gun in the SUV.

"It appears that it may be calculated to soften the blow if there is no indictment," said Peter Joy, a law professor at Washington University in St. Louis who directs the school's Criminal Justice Clinic.

But, he said, "it's conceivable that if the leaks are from law enforcement that perhaps there may be an indictment and this is calculated to garner public sympathy for officer Wilson."

Wilson's attorneys have denied being the source of the reports.

The shooting stoked long-simmering racial tensions in Ferguson, a predominantly black community with an overwhelmingly white police force. Protests have continued for two months in the St. Louis area, often peaceful but sometimes devolving into clashes between police firing tear gas and demonstrators lobbing rocks and bottles.

Law enforcement agencies have declined to say whether they will proactively line the streets with more officers as the grand jury announcement is made or position them in strategic locations to react as needed.

St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar said he's learned it works better to let sergeants and lieutenants retain their normal place in the chain of command, instead of supplanting them with higher-ranking officers.

"We've also learned we have to have a dialogue with our demonstrators, so they know what to expect from us, and we know what to expect from them," Belmar said.

Police are attempting to better document events and handle widespread arrests more efficiently. To ensure it's at full strength, the state Highway Patrol is limiting trooper vacations around the time of a potential decision, and local police may be put on longer shifts.

After the initial clashes with protesters, the state Highway Patrol purchased more shields and equipment for its officers. St. Louis city police recently spent $325,000 upgrading helmets, sticks and other "civil disobedience equipment," said Police Chief Sam Dotson.

More than 350 St. Louis officers now have been trained in civil disobedience tactics. St. Louis County police and state troopers also have undergone training, focused largely on ensuring they understand protesters' constitutional rights.

Belmar, Johnson and other law officers have been meeting frequently with clergy, students and community leaders. Pastors, in turn, have been preaching messages of non-violence.

Earlier this week, Democratic state Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, of St. Louis, intentionally got arrested for refusing to leave the street in front of the Ferguson Police Department. Even that was an act preparation. Nasheed said she wanted to show others that "you can peacefully protest, but you don't have to be violent under the banner of justice for Michael Brown."

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