Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon (D) announced on Thursday afternoon that the Missouri Highway Patrol would be taking over security operations in Ferguson, a town that has witnessed a series of tense standoffs between residents and heavily-armored police officers.
Local officers from Ferguson and the county police would remain involved, as they have been all week, but the state highway patrol would direct security on the ground.
“We are going to have a different approach and have the approach that we’re in this together,” Capt. Ronald S. Johnson, said during a news conference with Nixon.
Johnson, who grew up in the region, promised a different approach with the highway patrol in charge. He vowed that he would be on the ground himself on Thursday night and said he planned to visit the QuikTrip that has become ground zero for the protesters.
“I understand the anger and fear that the citizens of Ferguson are feeling, and our officers will respect both of those,” said Johnson, who has been the head of the highway patrol’s troop in the region since 2002.
The highway patrol, along with police from the city of St. Louis, had been called in by the St. Louis County police on Sunday when looting broke out in Ferguson and neighboring cities.
News that the patrol would take over the security response from local police came as criticism has mounted over the heavy police response to protests in Ferguson. The city has been fraught with tension since a police officer shot and killed Michael Brown on Saturday, and daytime protests have given way to nighttime confrontations that saw police launch tear gas and fire rubber bullets.
After five tense nights, the state’s top elected official stepped in, promising residents “a different tone” in his first visit to the area since Brown was killed.
“We all have been concerned about the vision that the world has seen about this region,” Nixon said Thursday. “I think we’re all about making sure that we allow peaceful and appropriate protests and that we use force only when necessary.”
President Obama, in his first extended remarks on the situation, called the scenes “deeply” disturbing on Thursday. Attorney General Eric Holder also criticized the response, saying he was concerned that military equipment was being deployed and promising assistance from the Department of Justice.
This post will be updated. Last update: 5:05 p.m.