4 min read
Posted on 02.09.15
  • 4 min read
  • Posted on 02.09.15

Civilian oversight of law enforcement is important. And, it is what we already have with the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department. Under our current system, the Police Chief reports to civilians: first to the Director of Public Safety and, ultimately, to me.

Although this form of civilian oversight is similar to the way civilians in the federal government oversee the military, I recognize that even more civilian involvement in policing would likely contribute to better relationships between police officers and the diverse communities they are sworn to protect.

That's why I have supported creating a Civilian Oversight Board to assist the Public Safety director and Police Chief in deciding how to discipline police officers. Such a Board would allow the Police Chief to know how the community might react to the way a particular officer will be disciplined. That would, I strongly believe, be a good thing.

But, setting up such a board is not easy. Alderman Terry Kennedy, currently chair of the aldermanic Public Safety Committee, and I have been working together for months to draft legislation that would do so. Board Bill 208 represents our work, and is co-sponsored by a majority of the aldermen.

There are three necessary elements to creating a successful Civilian Oversight Board. I think almost all of us can agree on all three elements.

First, a Civilian Oversight Board must treat police officers fairly. If a civilian review board were to become a vehicle for conducting a witch-hunt against police officers, it would do far more harm than good.

Second, a Civilian Oversight Board must treat civilians fairly. It can't just be a rubber stamp for the police. It must provide the Police Chief with an objective assessment of how officers treat civilians.

Third, a Civilian Oversight Board must comply with state law and our City Charter. It's this last element that has presented the greatest challenge in the past.That's why civilian review legislation in 2006 would never have survived a legal challenge, and I vetoed it.

The legislation that Alderman Kennedy and I introduced treats police officers and civilians fairly and is legal.

Last week, one alderman proposed a revised civilian review bill that guts the reasonable compromises worked out with Alderman Kennedy. The revised bill would violate all three of the elements of a successful Civilian Oversight Board. The revised bill would allow aldermen to review personnel records of police officers, allow Civilian Oversight Board members to interfere with police officers' rights as public employees, and subject police officers to multiple investigations at the same time. 

The revised bill would treat civilians unfairly by raising the age requirement to 25 years of age, excluding from possible service the young adults who are the future of our city.

And the revised bill would violate the law. The revised bill does not meet the City Charter's provisions allocating authority and duties among the various branches and departments in our government. The revised bill gives the Civilian Oversight Board the ability to subpoena witnesses, a power which the Board of Alderman cannot by law give to an independent entity. 

For these reasons, I would veto the revised bill if it ever reached my desk.

But I don't think it will get that far. A majority of the Board of Aldermen still supports the original bill that Aldermen Kennedy and I introduced. The St. Louis Police Officers Association would like the opportunity to propose changes that it says will improve the bill. I see their willingness to engage on this issue as a positive step forward.

A majority of the aldermen recognize that we need a Civilian Oversight Board that treats police officers fairly, treats civilians fairly, and complies with the law.

I look forward to signing the original bill. It's time.

UPDATE:

The legislation that Alderman Kennedy and I introduced treats police officers and civilians fairly and is legal. Last week, an alderman proposed a revised civilian review bill that would have gutted the reasonable compromises worked out with Alderman Kennedy. This week, the police officers' union presented its own version of a revised civilian review bill. The aldermanic Public Safety Committee rejected both revised bills. Instead, the Committee made a few edits to improve the final language of the original bill, and recommended our compromise bill for passage. I am confident it will pass the full Board of Aldermen. I look forward to signing it.