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Government, Politics & Issues

Reviews Say St. Louis County Police Department Has Racial Divide, City Police Need Plan For Violent Crime

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New reports say the St. Louis County Police Department has "a serious racial divide" and St. Louis Police need to improve fighting violent crime.

Updated at 5:20 p.m., Dec. 22, with comments from members of the St. Louis County Council

Two separate, independent reports by an outside consultant have determined that the St. Louis County Police Department has major racial problems while its counterpart in St. Louis needs a better strategy for fighting violent crime.

The reports, released Monday, call for significant action by both departments.

St. Louis County Police report

The report on the St. Louis County department said the window is shrinking for the chief to address “a serious racial divide” within the organization.

The 43-page report by private consultant Teneo Group said Chief Mary Barton must quickly address this divide by creating a long-term strategic plan outlining the department’s mission and objectives. The plan must be shared with employees but also with the community to restore trust, specifically with communities of color.

“In this period of pain and introspection about race and policing, the chief should initiate her own signature program of outreach to communities of color, including faith, civic, education and business leaders,” the report read.

Barton, in a statement, said she is grateful for the closer look at the department and opportunity to improve.

“I am committed to improving public safety, reducing crime, and making the St. Louis County Police Department the best that it can be,” she said.

Barton has been criticized by the Ethical Society of Police, which represents officers of color, for not doing enough to address racial issues. A representative of the Ethical Society could not immediately be reached for comment Monday.

The report said the racial divide is most evident by the “strained relationship” between the Fraternal Order of Police and the Ethical Society. It recommended that the department create a one- to three-year plan for recruiting to increase diversity and set those recruiting goals to better reflect the community.

In addition to improving the relationships with the FOP and ESOP, the report suggests an offsite workshop to “open constructive dialogue and find a collaborative path forward on the issues of equity and inclusion.”

It suggests each organization agree on one shared goal. The report gives the example of redesigning the promotion exam for sergeants by adding more transparency and more objective scoring. This is an effort to resolve concerns of the FOP and ESOP regarding hiring and promotions.

The “lack of hard data and tracking of demographics relating to recruiting, training, hiring, transfers, and promotions” was a “significant challenge,” according to the report. The agency conducting the review said it requested demographic information about hiring and promotion processes “several times,” but the data was never provided.

“The department's Human Resources Director noted that between 2016 and 2018, no demographic data was collected on candidates for hire because the computer program in use did not track this information,” the report read.

It calls for the department to revise training policies to make them more transparent and clear.

The report also suggests the department immediately review and rewrite how complaints of misconduct against police officers are handled, as well as implement a new policy to address when and under what circumstances body camera footage will be released to the public.

“The policy should lean toward transparency and toward release within 48 to 96 hours after an incident, following appropriate disclosure and discussion with the relevant prosecutor and done with reasonable sensitivity to the interests of affected family members of persons involved.”

The report found that the department does not conduct random reviews of body camera footage to ensure officers are complying with department policy, which is becoming a “best practice” nationally. There is also no policy in place to require that every citizen complaint is logged and investigated.

Teneo Group conducted roughly 80 individual interviews in creating the report and also spoke with members of the St. Louis County Board of Police Commissioners, St. Louis County Executive Sam Page, leadership of police agencies and others.

Page sent a letter to the County Council accompanying the report. That statement read, in part:

“My initial review of the report indicates that it is serious, candid, and straightforward. Some of the report findings and recommendations are consistent with perceptions of the department in the community while others will be new to many.” He did not comment further.

The council’s Health, Justice and Welfare committee on Tuesday held the first of what members hoped would be several meetings on the report. The general consensus, especially on the issue of the racial divide, was that the report provided no new information.

“This has gone on for a long time,” said Councilwoman Rochelle Walton Gray, D-Black Jack. “This is not recent. One of my issues has been the racial divide, not only within the department but with the community as well.”

Councilwoman Rita Days, D-Bel Nor, said she hoped county officials took the advice of the most recent report seriously.

“I just don’t want this again that we’re sitting here with another report that we’re going to go through and it will sit on the shelf,” she said. “There’s been a lack of willingness to do what is required or asked of in this report.”

Former St. Louis County Police Chief Tim Fitch, who is now a Republican member of the council, said the assessment contained many good suggestions. But he warned his fellow members to “be prepared for the bill.”

“I will tell you based on everything I’ve seen in the report, it’s going to probably be $10 million plus to do that,” he said. “Are we prepared as a council to do that?”

The report said the chief and the board “conveyed that resolving internal issues of racism and gender discrimination were foundational to the overall ability of the department to function at its best.” The board prioritized dealing with these issues before the agency could work on “trust and legitimacy issues within the community.”

Lead Teneo risk consultant Dan Oates spoke briefly with St. Louis Public Radio about the report, limiting his comments to allow those affected to absorb and respond first. But, he said it is important to note that the county police department is “fundamentally a strong agency with wonderful people who do good work.”

He also highlighted that the report was privately funded by businesses and used no tax dollars.

The report found the county police department to be a “sound agency with an ethical foundation,” but it suggested working more closely and collaboratively with the St. Louis Police Department to reduce violent crime. In addition, the report found that the organization must improve engagement with the community it serves.

“Our team has been impressed by the dedication, professionalism, and pride that members of the department have exhibited, particularly in the face of the current climate‘s physical and psychological burdens, as well as the resourcing and crime challenges unique to the department and the county,” the report said.

The report was publicly released to the county with the council meeting agenda for Tuesday and may be discussed then. The Board of Police Commissioners, which also said it was appreciative of the report in a brief statement, said it will discuss the findings at a meeting Jan. 13.

St. Louis city police review

The business community, led by Centene Corp., which has complained about the area’s high crime rate, also contracted with Teneo for a review of the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department. Lead reviewer Charles Ramsey, a former chief of the Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., departments, said race did not come up as often as he thought it would in interviews.

“It did surface in different areas in terms of assignments, particularly to specialized units and opportunity for promotion, and things of that nature. And that’s something we’d have to take a real deep dive in,” Ramsey said. He added that the review found that much of the issue is with the current contracts negotiated by the St. Louis Police Officers Association, which prioritize seniority.

“The city in the next round of negotiations is going to have to come up with something to relieve that so that there can be more opportunity for mobility within the department,” he said.

The key issue in the city, Ramsey found, was a lack of a strategic plan to address violent crime, as well as a failure to communicate a plan when it did exist.

“It doesn’t mean that the department is doing nothing to address crime, but it’s not as coordinated and strategic as it could be,” he said. “It’s leveraging all the resources that the department has available to it, and making sure that everyone is singing from the same sheet of music.”

For example, the report found that analysts with the department routinely distributed large amounts of information to district officers, including “profiles and link analyses of the city’s most violent individuals, trends and suspects in gang and youth crime, reports on aggravated assaults,” but districts, and even individual officers, use the information differently.

Ramsey’s report also acknowledged that understaffing contributed to the department’s issues. Having too few patrol officers to respond to calls, he said, leaves little time for them to focus on strategic policing or developing better relationships with the community.

In addition to calling for the development of an overall strategy, Ramsey recommended reducing the number of specialized units to put more officers on the streets, and deploying them based on the amount of crime, rather than equally across the city.

In her regular briefing Monday on Facebook Live, Mayor Lyda Krewson said the city had welcomed the review.

“I thought it was a pretty good report,” she said. “There are many recommendations, but we always want to get better, and I think this has been an opportunity."

In a series of Tweets, she announced that her administration would be forming a team “to further analyze and study the report so we can build upon the best of @SLMPD and our dedicated officers who bravely serve and protect us each and every day.”

The future of the recommendations is uncertain, as Krewson is not running for a second term. Police Chief John Hayden said a change in administration should not make a difference.

“I certainly believe the recommendations are solid across many ways, and so it really shouldn’t matter who the mayor is to implement something that is a legitimate assessment,” he said.

Board of Aldermen President Lewis Reed, one of three candidates for mayor, said that the city has been working to improve the department but that the report shows more work is needed.

Mayoral candidates Treasurer Tishaura Jones and Alderwoman Cara Spencer, D-20th Ward, could not immediately be reached for comment.

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