St. Louis aldermen advance new civilian police oversight
Major changes to how St. Louis oversees its police department and prisons have cleared their first hurdle.
The College of Aldermen approved the measure on Wednesday by a 14-3 vote, with four voting members present and one abstaining. But the supporters will need 15 votes to adopt it at the next meeting on Friday.
“This work started 20 years ago,” said Shameem Clark Hubbard, Alderman for the 26th District, the measure’s main sponsor. “They knew then that this work would continue to evolve.”
Hubbard has been working on this bill since May 2021, when she and her colleagues approved legislation creating the Supervisory board for detention facilities. It moves that council, along with the Civilian Oversight Council, which helps investigate police misconduct, under the oversight of a civilian oversight commissioner, and gives them more responsibilities and powers. They would remain with the Department of Public Safety, which also includes the police department and corrections.
Hubbard said she tried to find enough support to remove the public safety commissioner, but couldn’t reach an agreement. This lack of true independence prompted 1st Ward Alderman Sharon Tyus to vote in attendance.
“If we’re going to do it, shake it up and write something that’s really, really independent,” she said.
The measure also gives Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner the power to set up a Public Integrity Unit, which would investigate police misconduct, including shootings involving officers. Gardner has wanted this authority since 2017, his first year in office.
The measure does not specifically spell out how that unit would work with officers currently investigating use-of-force incidents, and the lack of clarity upset 16th District Alderman Tom Oldenburg.
A shooting involving an officer, he said, is always a police scene that would require the presence of at least some St. Louis police officers for security and other matters.
“So there will have to be some level of cooperation and understanding of a protocol going on there,” Oldenburg said.
He asked Hubbard if she would be willing to save the bill over summer vacation to continue working on it. Hubbard declined the request, noting that the bill’s provisions will not go into effect until one year after it is approved.
“Our constituents deserve this confidence-building document, this confidence-building policy, to keep moving,” she said.
The counting of votes
As it stands, the current roll call isn’t enough to send the measure to Mayor Tishaura Jones — it requires 15 votes.
Two of the board members who voted to attend are listed as co-sponsors of the bill, and Hubbard said she plans to speak to them before Friday’s meeting. Another co-sponsor was present at the meeting but did not vote.
The margin of error is likely to increase a little on Friday, when Jimmy Lappe, who was elected municipal councilor for the 11th arrondissement on Tuesday, takes the oath. Her vote will be critical on this issue and also on passing a separate bill that uses federal coronavirus relief money to help people travel to access abortions.
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