Washington People: Luther Tyus

From policing to policy

Luther Tyrus
Luther Tyrus brings his experience as a police officer to his graduate studies at the Brown School. Tyus aims to address excessive use of force by police. (Photo by Whitney Curtis)

In 2014, Luther Tyus was finishing his sixth year as an officer with the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department.

He had become well known within the department, winning accolades like the Meritorious Service Citation and Citizen’s Service Award for his work to build trust between officers and local communities. He had organized a series of police-run events, such as movie nights and school supply drives, to help foster positive ties with residents.

And his supervisor had recently transferred him to a specialized unit that served Housing Authority communities in north St. Louis, with the hope that his approach could benefit one of the most troubled areas for police-community relations.

But in July of that year, when video of Eric Garner’s death became national news, Tyus was deeply disturbed. Garner died after New York City police placed him in a chokehold, a violation of the NYPD’s use-of-force policy. To Tyus, it was a blatant abuse of police authority.

“As a police officer, you may be dealing with real criminals who are trying to take your life, and you need to understand that,” he said, explaining that police do, at times, need to use lethal force. “But mistakes don’t have to happen at the rate that they’re happening.”

He ultimately left the police force and enrolled at the Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis. Now, pursuing a master’s degree in social work, Tyus is studying both policy solutions and ways to improve officer training to address excessive use of force by police.

Read the full profile on the Brown School website.

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