St. Louis mayor signs order to gather jail, police complaint data, close oversight loophole

The city's DOC must report all complaints from detainees at the city's two jails since 2017


By Erin Heffernan
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
        
ST. LOUIS — Mayor Tishaura O. Jones signed an executive order Wednesday aimed at collecting citizen jail and police complaint data and closing a loophole that's limited a police oversight board for years.

Jones' order compels the police department to provide the mayor and Public Safety Director Dan Isom with data on all citizen complaints since 2016, and it directs the city's Department of Corrections to gather all complaints from detainees at the city's two jails since 2017.

Corrections staff will also be required to submit information on all COVID-19 tests and cases in the jails.

The order is Mayor Tishaura Jones' latest move toward fulfilling campaign promises of police and corrections accountability.
The order is Mayor Tishaura Jones' latest move toward fulfilling campaign promises of police and corrections accountability. (New America, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

The information must be submitted by May 10.

The order, which also mandates police give the Civilian Oversight Board access to all civilian misconduct complaints, is Jones' latest move toward fulfilling campaign promises of police and corrections accountability.

According to the order, the department had been taking advantage of a loophole in how civilian complaints are submitted as a way to avoid sending all complaints to the seven-member board.

At issue are two separate forms. Complaints made through the Joint Civilian Complaint Form would go to both the oversight board and the department, while complaints made to the department's own "complaint/commendation" form were not being forwarded to the board, according to the order.

The Civilian Oversight Board, created by the Board of Aldermen under Mayor Francis Slay's administration in 2015, reviews civilian misconduct complaints and rules on resolutions made by the department's Internal Affairs Division.

If the board disagrees with the internal action in response to a complaint, it sends a letter with its recommendation to the police chief.

The chief is not bound to follow the oversight board's recommendation, but must write the board a letter explaining the action if the recommendation is not followed.

The seven-member board is composed of mayoral appointees who have been confirmed by the Board of Aldermen.

The oversight board is also tasked with reviewing the department's internal investigations into fatal police shootings. Though there have been several shootings since the board's inception, the board has yet to receive a police shooting case from the department, Kimberley Taylor-Riley, the board's commissioner, told The Trace earlier this month.

Jones' office said Wednesday that the rules establishing the board kept it from gaining the access it was intended to have.

"These systems were built for abuse, not accountability," Jones said in a statement Wednesday. "If we want to rebuild trust between our communities and the police department, we cannot allow the police to investigate themselves."

On her first day in office last week, Jones directed staff to cut all funding in the next city budget for one of the city's two jails, the Medium Security Institution, also known as the workhouse.

Jones has said she aims to remove all detainees from the jail within her first 100 days in office.

The mayor and other city leaders toured the workhouse and the city's downtown jail, the City Justice Center, on Saturday.

"Last weekend, after personally witnessing unsanitary and inhumane conditions inside both facilities, Mayor Jones spoke with detainees who expressed concerns about the carelessness by which corrections staff handled their complaints," her office said in a statement Wednesday.

The statement continued that the complaints gathered will be reviewed by Jones' public safety director, the personnel director, the Civilian Oversight Board and the city counselor's office.
    
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McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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