The low rate at which the St. Louis Police Department sustains physical-abuse complaints against officers – the subject of scathing comments by a federal judge in 2008 – has increased significantly in recent years, says the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. At about 3 percent, it remains only half the rate reflected in a federal study of the nation’s large departments. “Sustained” means an internal investigation showed that a complaint was supported by evidence.
In 2008, U.S. District Judge E. Richard Webber accused the Board of Police Commissioners of turning a “blind eye” to abuse complaints, after evidence in a civil suit showed that only one of 322 complaints had been sustained in a five-year period. In 2006-08, the department reported 123 complaints of physical abuse. Four of those, or 3 percent, were sustained, 82 percent were not sustained and three were withdrawn. In a 2002 study of state and local law enforcement agencies with more than 1,000 officers, the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics found that 6 percent of their complaints were sustained and 42 percent not sustained. The report pointed out that the statistics’ meaning was not always clear. Departments used different counting methods. Moreover, a low rate of complaints could mean that officers were performing well or that the process was inaccessible. St. Louis Police Chief Dan Isom cautioned that the numbers in St. Louis and nationwide may not be comparable.