After years of debate and little advance warning, the St. Louis police board voted yesterday to create a civilian review board to monitor complaints against the department. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch says that an alderman who has been one of the biggest champions for such a board called the action a “slap in the face” to the community because the members of the new board would be selected only by the mayor. “What they did today circumvented the democratic process, and that’s not the way to go,” said Alderman Terry Kennedy. He says the move undermined two years of efforts to put together a civilian review board that would include elected and appointed members.
The civilian review board would work with the police department’s internal affairs division. Disciplinary action would be left to the board. Mayor Francis Slay is one of five members of the Police Board. The governor selects the other four members. The Police Department is under the control of the state but funded by the city.
The sole vote against forming the review board came from board member Michael J. Quinn. He said there is no need for another layer of oversight. “When the governor appointed us, part of our responsibility is the investigation of citizen complaints,” Quinn said.
Pressure to create a civilian review board increased after two officers on March 31 together fired 28 shots at a car carrying three preschool children. The children were unharmed but their father, the driver, was wounded. Police Chief Joe Mokwa took steps to fire both officers.
Kennedy said a civilian review board should have elected members to assure that politics is taken out of the process. Slay said elections could be just as politically charged as appointees, with the police union campaigning for a slate of candidates or community activists working to stack the board with anti-police members.