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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

The police chief of Ferguson, Missouri says the officer who shot Michael Brown did not know the teen was a suspect in a robbery. This revelation came hours after the chief released surveillance video and a police report that names Brown as the suspect in a convenience store robbery shortly before he was killed. These latest details only cloud further what's already been a sensitive situation. We'll get the latest from Ferguson later in the program. We begin with the debate over the police response to protests following the shooting. As NPR's Scott Horsley reports, both the left and the right say it's been heavy-handed.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Ferguson, Missouri was peaceful last night. No more tear gas or Molotov cocktails and the county police, who'd confronted protesters all week were replaced by state troopers, walking side-by-side with the demonstrators. Missouri Governor Jay Nixon, a two- term Democrat, had ordered the overnight change in police tactics.

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GOVERNOR JAY NIXON: This is a place where people work, go to school, raise their families and go to church, a diverse community, a Missouri community. But lately this looked a little more like a war zone and that's unacceptable.

HORSLEY: Missouri's Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill also complained about the police posture in Ferguson earlier this week. There's a history of mistrust between the mostly African-American residents of the St. Louis suburb and it's nearly all white police force. McCaskill says it didn't help when officers responded to protests in camouflage and armored vehicles.

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SENATOR CLAIRE MCCASKILL: When police come out and take a stand and wear and have equipment that makes it feel like, that somehow the people who are protesting are assumed to be the bad guys, I don't think it helps take the tension out of the situation. I think it puts more tension in it.

HORSLEY: Some conservatives were also alarms to see local police adopting tactics and tools traditionally used by the military. Since the 1960s Republicans have been known as the party of law and order but GOP Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky argued in an essay for Time magazine's website, there should be a difference between a police response and a military response. His point was echoed by conservative blogger Erick Erickson of redstate.com.

ERICK ERICKSON: No one's denying we need strong police forces but the police force isn't supposed to be a paramilitary organization.

HORSLEY: Missouri state troopers seem to take that to heart last night. Marching alongside the protesters rather than ordering them off the streets. Highway Patrol Captain Ron Johnson, who is African-American, grew up near Ferguson and steered the new approach, says the change in tactics is just the beginning.

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RONALD JOHNSON: There's things that have to happen after this is over to make us all better. Training, diversity, having more minority officers in our communities, more women on our police departments. So all of that needs to happen.

HORSLEY: Some conservatives on the other hand suggest a different fix. Erickson, the RedState blogger, sees paramilitary policing as just another symptom of big government run amok.

ERICKSON: Conservatives are concerned with what happened with the IRS and the EPA going after small businesses. They should, I think, also necessarily be concerned about small government in local communities, feeling emboldened to behave badly.

HORSLEY: Missouri's Governor Nixon says his immediate concern is maintaining peace on the streets of Ferguson. Ultimately though he says both Missouri and America will be judged on whether the events this week that touched such a nerve lead to any lasting changes. Scott Horsley, NPR News, Washington.

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