In a major policy shift, St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay has announced that he could support giving the new civilian oversight board subpoena power, and moving it from the umbrella of the public safety department, under certain circumstances.
The announcement came at a second "accountability meeting" arranged by a variety of activist groups as a platform for politicians to announce exactly what steps they will take to fulfill the recommendations of the Ferguson Commission. Slay was unable to make the first meeting, on Nov. 1.
The support for changes in the oversight board isn't without qualifications. Slay wants to see how the new seven-member board functions before he makes a final decision on whether to support those changes. And subpoena power could not be granted to the oversight board without a charter change, which requires a vote of the people.
Slay was not available for questions after the meeting, but John Chasnoff, a co-founder of the Coalition Against Police Crimes and Repression, said he was pleased that private conversations and testimony at a variety of hearings on the board had changed the mayor's mind.
"He is the executive leader of the city of St. Louis, and I think the Board of Aldermen are negative about starting the process of passing legislation if they feel the mayor is going to veto it up front," Chasnoff said.
The seven-member board will review the internal affairs investigations of the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department and conduct its own investigations in certain circumstances. Six of the seven have been confirmed, and the hiring process for the board's commissioner is underway.
Also on Monday, Slay agreed to support a unified police training academy for the city and St. Louis County, and additional training for officers around implicit bias and use of force. He also pledged to support changes to the way the state collects its data around traffic stops and to lobby for any needed changes in Jefferson City.
The Missouri Peace Officer Standards and Training Commission is scheduled next Tuesday to release updated training guidelines around tactical training and impartial policing.
Attorney General Chris Koster also attended Monday's meeting, and emphasized his work on developing more diverse police forces. Koster, who is running for the Democratic nomination for governor, pledged to make sure that Missouri's use of force statute is brought in line with a 1985 U.S. Supreme Court ruling and reiterated his support for police body cameras, though with limits on who can see the footage.
St. Louis Metropolitan Police Chief Sam Dotson was invited to the meeting, but did not attend. Mayor Slay made pledges on his behalf.
St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger and Police Chief Jon Belmar also received invitations to attend the second meeting. The Rev. Starsky Wilson said there was "growing concern" that the two county leaders were unresponsive.
"When County Executive Stenger was running, he was at the public meeting then, but he’s not at the public meeting now," Wilson said. "I think it’s critically important that the county executive meet face to face with the people of this region, say what his commitments are."
In a statement, a spokesman for Stenger said the Democrat had met frequently with Metropolitan Congregation United, one of the event organizers, and would continue to do so, but that the office was currently focusing on passing controversial police standards legislation.
"This legislation is long overdue and will immediately address many of the issues the MCU is concerned with, and it’s a great first step toward solving many of these important issues we face as a region. We have told MCU leadership that we need to pass this legislation before we can definitively address other issues raised by the organization," the statement concluded.
Follow Rachel Lippmann on Twitter: @rlippmann