St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner contends the current system of investigating a police officer who kills someone is “broken,” prompting her to ask for more than $1 million for her department to handle the cases from start to finish.
Gardner brought her proposal to the public safety committee of the St. Louis Board of Aldermen on Tuesday. Some committee members expressed support for the idea.
Since 2014, a special division of the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department, called the Force Investigation Unit, has collected evidence in officer-involved killings, and passed it along to the circuit attorney. Prosecutors then determine whether evidence supports filing criminal charges against the officer. In 2015, Gardner’s predecessor, Jennifer Joyce, began doing her own parallel investigations, although she had to rely on the police department for things like ballistic evidence and DNA testing.
But Gardner wants her office to be in charge of the investigation. She wants her staff to handle things like interviewing witnesses and determining what evidence needs to be collected.
“Both the community and the police deserve an objective, fair and transparent investigation,” Gardner said. “And it is no longer acceptable for police to be essentially investigating themselves.”
Gardner is modeling her unit on one based in San Francisco. She wants to hire five investigators, four prosecutors and two other staffers. The attorneys handling officer-involved killings would not work on any other cases.
St. Louis police Lt. Roger Englehardt, the commander of the Force Investigation Unit, told aldermen that the department would work within whatever system they were ordered to.
“But as far as trust, trust has to be earned,” he said. “The public is not going to automatically trust them because it’s the circuit attorney’s office. The police officers aren’t going to automatically trust them because it’s the circuit attorney’s office.”
The 2015 report of the Ferguson Commission recommended that the Missouri attorney general’s office serve as a special prosecutor in all use-of-force cases. Gardner said she rejects that idea, adding that her office is accountable to St. Louis’ voters — while the attorney general’s office is not. St. Louis County Prosecutor Bob McCulloch has also been critical of the outside prosecutor idea.
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