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Public can help with accreditation of St. Louis police

(St. Louis Public Radio photo)

By Rachel Lippmann, St. Louis Public Radio


Have you ever dealt with the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department? The Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies wants to hear from you.

The department got its first CALEA accreditation three years ago; it's trying to get re-accredited for another three years. As the department explains :

"The assessors will review written material, interview individuals and visit offices and other locations where compliance can be witnessed. ... As part of the on-site assessment, members of the community and department employees are invited to offer public comments to the on-site assessment team by phone or in person. Those offering comment must limit their statements to 10 minutes and must address the agency's ability to comply with CALEA standards."

Sam Dotson, a captain with the department who's handling the CALEA process, expects most of the comments to be positive.

"The public comment is just an extension of something we already do, so we're hoping to hear the good and the bad of what happens with the police department," he says.

So what can the public offer? Sylvester Daughtry, the executive director of CALEA, says the ability to take public comment is a good test of a department's transparency.

For example, "we have a standard that requires an agency to have an open citizen complaint process," he says. Essentially, that means a citizen knows how they can file a complaint about an officer and the complaints are investigated. The citizen should also be able to learn what happened as a result of the investigation.

Citizen complaints against the police department have been an issue.

For years, a group calling itself The Coalition Against Police Crimes and Repression  lobbied for a citizen review board that would have power to investigate alleged crimes by police and make discipline recommendations to the Board of Police Commissioners. Finally, in 2006, the Police Board approved a version of the board. As the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported:

"Slay's proposal would establish a panel of seven members nominated by the Board of Aldermen, selected by him and confirmed by the Police Board. Its members would receive police misconduct complaints from the public that are now made to Internal Affairs. It would be able to investigate after Internal Affairs investigators finish their own inquiries and forward findings to the chief of police."

"Activists criticized the structure, saying it put everything under control of the police department.

In 2008, a federal judge, E. Richard Webber, accused the department in an opinion of turning a blind eye to police brutality. In 2010, the numbers had improved, but remained, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, half of the rate of other large departments.

Still, the issues did not prevent the department from receiving CALEA accreditation in 2007. Officials will know by March 2011 if they receive accreditation for another three years.

Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.

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