St. Louis aldermen approve new civilian oversight of police and jails
Changes to oversight of St. Louis police and jails are now heading to Mayor Tishaura Jones' desk.
A bill, approved by St. Louis aldermen 17-3 Friday, puts the Detention Facilities Oversight Board and the Civilian Police Oversight Board under a civilian commissioner. The bill keeps the boards under the city’s Department of Public Safety and gives the commissioner more power.
The bill is a necessary step in ensuring more accountability for officers, said 26th Ward Alderwoman Shameem Clark Hubbard, who sponsored the legislation.
“This bill is what anybody would be supporting if you want accountability on any side,” Hubbard said. “We have the people in place, now more than ever, who can do it the right way.”
A spokesperson for Jones said she plans to sign the bill. Jones said in a statement that the bill strengthens accountability within the city’s police force.
The bill also gives Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner the ability to establish a team that investigates police misconduct and officer-involved shootings, a measure that some aldermen had previously criticized.
The vote followed opposition from the St. Louis Police Association and the Ethical Society of Police, which represents officers of color. The society said in a statement that while it supports holding officers accountable for questionable use of force, it was concerned over how the oversight board would be implemented.
“Good officers may leave in fear of a person or persons who have a hidden agenda against law enforcement,” the society’s statement said. “This bill is written based on past behaviors and situations from other cities. Officers would be held accountable for past, unacceptable behaviors of officers who no longer are a part of the SLMPD.”
Some aldermen echoed those concerns and suggested the board hear from members of both organizations before the bill was voted on.
“Mere allegations should have a proper vessel to review, investigate,” said 16th Ward Alderman Tom Oldenburg. “I don’t think it’s asking for the world to have the police officer associations, both of them, to take a little more time.”
Oldenburg suggested lawmakers work on the bill throughout the summer and return to it in the fall when the board returns from its break, which began after Friday’s meeting. But Alderman Joe Vaccaro of the 23rd Ward said representatives have had opportunities to speak during meetings on the bill.
Alderwoman Sharon Tyus of the 1st Ward voted present but supported the direction of the bill. She said the city needs a fully independent police board.
“I don’t have a problem if the police organizations don’t agree with civilian oversight,” Tyus said. “I just want the strongest oversight, independent, serious oversight that I can have.”
Hubbard said it would take a year to implement these changes.
“It starts with us telling our constituencies, yes we want to work with you all and we want to work cooperatively with our public safety department so that every voice is heard,” Hubbard said.
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