By ED FINKELSTEIN
An effort by the St. Louis Police Officers Association to support a Citizens Oversight Board (COB) and its investigation into cases involving the use of deadly force was turned upside down when the several city aldermen moved to ignore a previous agreement with the Police Association that subpoena powers for the COB were not necessary.
The COB is an independent body of citizens appointed by the mayor that reviews disciplinary recommendations involving allegations of police misconduct.
Although law protects investigative files in such cases, the union had agreed with the city’s counselor’s office to provide them, along with summaries of officers’ statements, to the COB to ensure they had the information they needed to make a fair judgment. As part of the agreement, subpoenas would not be used.
The union has pointed out a number of times that the COB does not have the legal authority to issue subpoenas, a position the “city’s own attorneys have acknowledged in the past,” the Association noted.
If the Board of Aldermen passes the proposed legislation, it will negate the voluntary agreement.
“Subpoenas in this case are first, illegal as the statute doesn’t give that authority to the COB. We would challenge it in court and it would mean extra expense for the city to defend when they could be using that money for more productive uses, like fighting crime or providing better police salaries to enhance recruitment,” said Jeff Roorda, business manager for the Association.
“Secondly, an officer’s testimony could be used by anyone to file criminal charges if they didn’t like the COB’s final decision, and that’s basically unfair to the officer. So, if the COB had subpoena powers, we would advise officers to exercise their constitutional rights and not testify, thus the COB would have less information in their decision-making process.
“As we have agreed, officers will fully cooperate with the COB. There’s no need for this unnecessary, and we believe illegal, step.”
WASTE OF TAXPAYERS’ MONEY
The union notes that past cases have shown the proposed legislation is illegal, the city knows it, and that pursuing them would be a “a waste of taxpayers’ time and money –– money that could be used to fight crime,” Roorda said.
There are two bills in question:
• Board Bill 233 would authorize subpoena power for the COB.
• Board Bill 234 would allocate $1.5 million to create a unit in the Circuit Attorney’s office to investigate the use of deadly force by police officers. But Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner already investigates police use of deadly force, and does so using her existing budget.
In addition, the union’s lawyers recently filed motions in court to disqualify the Circuit Attorney’s office from investigating such cases citing the conflict of having officers who use deadly force investigated by the same office that is prosecuting the alleged criminal against whom they’ve used that force.
Allocating another $1.5 million to Gardner’s office to continue investigations she is already conducting is “utterly insane and a colossal waste of tax dollars that we should be using to put murderers behind bars,” the union said.
“This is a gigantic double-cross by the sponsors and supporters of these bills. We had a deal,” the union said in a press release.
“The law doesn’t allow for subpoena power, the COB hasn’t asked for subpoena power, and we agreed to give them records we didn’t have to give up so that the COB would have everything they needed to do a thorough investigation without subpoenas.
“We have a new chief and a great opportunity to re-focus our efforts on crime fighting. This is nothing more than a distraction that takes away from those efforts. The Board of Aldermen should get serious about crime and stop playing political games,” the union concluded.