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The tough task ahead for Ferguson’s next police chief

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NEW: NYPD commissioner: Chiefs need to embrace need for change

Ferguson might look to Sanford, Florida's experience when choosing a new chief

That city also had to find ways to heal divisions between community and police

CNN —  

Empathy. Confidence. Passion. These are the traits the next police chief in Ferguson, Missouri, will need to shrink the ocean of distrust between community and police.

So says Cecil Smith. And maybe he should know.

Smith is the police chief in Sanford, Florida, another community rocked by racial tensions and poor police-community relations after the high-profile shooting of a black teenager – the 2012 death of Trayvon Martin.

And if Smith’s experience is any guide, it will take “a lot of prayer and a little goading” to convince someone to step into the job vacated this week by Chief Thomas Jackson.

“That community, as we see, has been hurting and struggling for some time now,” he says.

And how:

– The community remains deeply scarred by the events last year, after the August shooting death of unarmed African-American teenager Michael Brown by a white Ferguson Officer Darren Wilson, and the November decision by the St. Louis County Grand Jury not to charge Wilson, who later resigned. Occasionally violent protests and sometimes heavy-handed responses by police deepened divisions and distrust.

– The police department was already groaning under the epic weight of months of nearly constant protest and last week’s release of a damning Department of Justice report that found evidence of discriminatory conduct on the part of Ferguson officials.

– Add to that the obvious fears facing officers following the shooting early Thursday of two police officers only hours after Jackson resigned.