Police Chief Joe Mokwa spoke out in public today about the practices of a police department contractor, a towing and parking company. He did not, however, take questions at his press conference, citing an on-going investigation into the matter. I think he should have, because this matter will continue to roil until he does.
Late last week, Police Board President Chris Goodson released a memo that reported to the Police Board that the chief told investigators he had reported the towing contractor’s practices as soon as he learned of them. On Monday, Col. Goodson said he believed that the chief had not been completely forthcoming. Based on what Col. Goodson said, the lawyer who prepared the report subsequently said he believed that the chief had misled him.
Chief Mokwa told me — and he repeated again today-- that he did not know until April 2008 that his daughter and son-in-law were using cars loaned to them by the towing contractor. He also said he did not know if the towing contractor had been loaning cars to police officers for extended periods. He said he thought it was possible someone had told him that a car his daughter was driving in an accident in 2002 was owned by the towing contractor. He said that if he heard that, he did not follow up on it. He said that with that exception the report was accurate and truthful.
As a City resident, I have a strong appreciation for Chief Mokwa’s efforts to keep our neighborhoods safe. As a parent, I can empathize with his struggles to address the many problems of a troubled offspring. But as the mayor, I find that neither my appreciation nor my empathy outweighs my judgment that the St. Louis Police Department needs strong, credible leadership.
I believe that Joe Mokwa’s tenure as St. Louis police chief depends on his version of these events being true — and on his ability to convince City residents and his own officers that he can continue to lead the police department. That’s why I think answering questions right now is important.
But, my concern does not end there.
Regardless of what the chief knew about his own daughter, the people of St. Louis deserve to know if (and which) police officers took free stuff from the towing company, and who knew about that.
So, I look forward to the results of an independent investigation and to any new information about this matter. Meanwhile, now might be a good time to consider whether it remains a good idea for the State of Missouri to control the St. Louis police department.