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The embattled community of Ferguson embarked on a major experiment in policing on Thursday.

After several days of aggressive and sometimes violent street confrontations featuring heavily armed police wearing riot gear and riding around the St. Louis suburb in military vehicles, Thursday saw an abrupt change of course.

Suddenly, the military hardware and the police in riot gear were gone from West Florissant Street — the suburban-style main drag that runs through the town and was the epicenter of the confrontations and looting.

They were replaced with a much smaller force of plainclothes police officers under the command of a charismatic State Highway Patrol captain with deep and long-standing ties to the local community.

“I roamed these streets,” said Captain Ron Johnson — the State Highway Patrol officer in charge of the area. “When the media from out of state is gone and when the people from out of this community are gone, Ron Johnson is still going to be here.”

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