Q&A on St. Louis City Civilian Oversight Board
For nearly 20 years, the residents of St. Louis have called for a Civilian Oversight Board (COB) to bring greater accountability and the perspective of citizens in the oversight of city police officers. Finally, with thanks to our lead sponsor Alderman Kennedy, the bill passed the Board of Alders on April 20, 2015.Of course, when it comes to social change, it’s never simple or straightforward. Thus, we provide this Q&A will help fill you in on some of the details and answer some questions:
How does the Civilian Review Board oversee Internal Affairs?
This bill creates a Civilian Oversight Board which will review Internal Affairs investigations and send investigations back to IAD with recommendations for further questions or additional evidence if that is needed. If the COB is still unsatisfied, it can conduct its own independent investigation. It will then make recommendations to the Chief of Police regarding discipline.
Does the COB just handle complaints against individuals, or can it work toward systemic change as well?
The COB also has the power to look at policies, procedures and operations to uncover systemic problems in the police department. It can then make recommendations to the Chief, and is mandated to follow through and report to the public whether or not changes are taking place.
What’s the process for selecting the members of the COB?
The Board of Alders is divided into seven COB Districts. The alders make recommendations of individuals to serve as members of the COB and the mayor nominates seven names, one from each District. Although those names do not necessarily come from the alders’ recommendations, there is a confirmation process: the names go to the Public Safety Committee for public hearings and then to the full Board of Alders for a majority vote to approve or reject. The public hearings create a transparent process, and the power to reject nominees provides the alders with the ability to push back if the mayor ignores their recommendations or presents unworthy nominees for the COB. The alders must make their recommendations by early July; the mayor will put forward his nominees by early August; the alders must confirm COB members by early November.
How can we work to get people on the COB who are representative of the community?
CAPCR is building COB District and ward teams to find candidates and lobby the alders to advance those names. We have also put together an application to make the selection process more fair and transparent. These same teams will also campaign for our two companion bills. You can look up your ward here and find contact info for your District anchorperson here.
What about subpoena power?
Unfortunately, by law, the Board of Alders does not have authority to legislate subpoena power. We have largely overcome this problem by requiring that the COB receive all Internal Affairs Department documents. The COB can also sit in on civilian interviews and feed questions to the interviewers. They can’t sit in on police interviews, but are guaranteed receipt of the videos of those interviews. In addition, we will introduce a companion bill to get subpoena power, either through a state statute or a city charter change.
Have we preserved the independence of the COB?
Yes, but not without some qualifications at this point. We have to place the COB somewhere in the executive branch, which the mayor controls The only logical place for it at this point is in the Department of Public Safety. Department heads hire staff and submit budgets. We took several steps to minimize these issues:
- First, the Director of Public Safety can hire the Executive Director of the COB only with the approval of the COB members.
- Second, the Executive Director of the COB has sole authority to hire the remaining staff.
- Third, the Executive Director and other staff derive all their powers only to the extent these powers are delegated by the COB. Thus, the COB has control over the staff.
- Finally, we will introduce a second companion bill to create a new city department: the Department of Civilian Oversight. This will allow us to have a Director with the appropriate skills and more control over the budget process.
How will the public stay informed?
The COB is required to conduct a public education campaign about itself, and will issue an annual report with detailed breakdowns of complaint outcomes by race, gender, location and more. The annual report will also detail policy recommendations and whether they were properly implemented.