Community activists in St. Louis win decade long fight to create civilian board to investigate police misconduct

May 6, 2015
Rebecca Rivas
news photo

St. Louis City Mayor Francis G. Slay signed the civilian oversight legislation into law today (Wednesday, May 6) in his office with Alderman Terry Kennedy (Ward 18), who fought for more than 10 years for the legislation. Slay vetoed Kennedy’s original legislation after it passed the Board of Aldermen in 2006, so Kennedy has waited almost a decade to shake the mayor’s hand at this bill-signing ceremony.

Board Bill 208, introduced by Kennedy and sponsored by Alderman Antonio French (Ward 21), creates a civilian board to review investigate complaints of police misconduct of the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department.

“Clearly it’s historic to have the bill on the books,” said John Chasnoff, co-chair of the Coalition Against Police Crimes and Repression, who helped draft the legislation. “That sets us up for the next stages. Not only do we want to have fair-minded people serving on the board, but it’s also important that there be an open and transparent process for how those people are picked.”

The bill officially becomes law on June 5, 2015. Then the Board of Aldermen has until July 6 to give their recommendations for the seven-member civilian oversight board. On August 5, the mayor will deliver his nominations to the Board of Aldermen. Then on November 3, the aldermanic public safety committee will hold public hearings on the mayor’s nominees, and the aldermen will vote on whether to confirm each nominee.

When the aldermen on public safety committee were considering Bill 208, Alderwoman Megan Ellyia Green (Ward 15) proposed an amendment that would have created a standardized application process for how the aldermen select the names for recommendations. This would equally provide the public an opportunity to be involved in the aldermen’s consideration process. However, it did not earn approval from the majority of committee members, including the bill’s sponsor Alderman French.

The law only states that the aldermen have to make their recommendations to the mayor but does not specific how. So the first time the public will likely hear about the aldermen’s proposed recommendations is when the Board of Aldermen Clerk delivers them to the mayor on July 6, French said.

“That’s going to be up to the individual aldermen,” French said. “The part for public input would be during the confirmation process.”

French said he doubts there will be any uniformity in how the aldermen in the seven districts pick their recommendations because it’s not spelled out in the law.

Chasnoff said because Green’s amendment proposal did not make into the law, CAPCR is trying to establish uniformity through “custom.” The group devised an application and evaluation process so that selection of candidates can be more fair and transparent, modeled after Green’s proposed amendment.

The group’s application and criteria for becoming a board member can be found on their website, capcr-stl.org. CAPCR members will evaluate the applications and then turn them over to the aldermen to review.

Jamala Rogers, co-chair of CAPCR, said they want to ensure that there is strong citizen input at each stage of the selection process.

“No process is spelled out in the bill, so we felt that we needed to fill that gap,” Chasnoff said. “We imagine over time that this process will establish some kind of customs, and we are trying to help establish those now.”