- Associated Press - Monday, April 20, 2015

ST. LOUIS (AP) - St. Louis will create a civilian oversight board to review complaints against police, the Board of Alderman decided Monday, though it will have limited powers.

The 18-7 vote, with two abstentions, creates a seven-person St. Louis Civilian Oversight Board, which will make recommendations but cannot discipline officers. It will review evidence and witness statements from police internal affairs investigations, then report its findings to the public safety director and police chief.

Some aldermen said it wasn’t enough, especially because the oversight board will lack subpoena power. But Alderman Antonio French, one of several bill sponsors, said that while it isn’t perfect, it’s a start.

“This hopefully will be one step toward re-establishing trust of police in the community,” French said.

The often contentious relationship between police and the black community in St. Louis and its suburbs came to the forefront after August’s fatal shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown, who was black and unarmed, by a white police officer in Ferguson. St. Louis police have fatally shot four people in the eight months since Brown was killed.

The St. Louis board will have oversight in the city only, not in Ferguson or any other suburb. Civilian police oversight boards exist in more than 100 cities, according to the National Association for Civilian Oversight of Police.

John Chasnoff of the Coalition Against Police Crimes and Repression called the bill “a major step forward,” but said time will tell if it leads to better relations.

“We’ll see in the coming months whether St. Louis leaders are serious about changing and whether citizens are serious about pressuring them to do so,” Chasnoff said.

Mayor Francis Slay will sign the bill into law on May 5, and said the measure “will enhance trust between police officers and the community, be fair to police and protect their rights, ensure that civilians have a role in our police department, and increase transparency.”

The St. Louis Police Officers Association did not want such a board to be created. President Joe Steiger said the association does not oppose civilian oversight, but that the measure is flawed and ultimately will lead to a court review.

“Our officers put their lives on the line every day,” Steiger said. “We are not perfect, nor do we claim to be. But we endeavor to do our best under the most trying of circumstances. Is it too much to expect the same from our elected officials?”

The issue in St. Louis has been contentious enough that an aldermanic committee meeting in January was cut short when proponents and opponents began pushing and shoving while officers tried to maintain control. No arrests were made.

At Monday’s meeting, Alderwoman Sharon Tyus said the new board is little more than window dressing, especially without subpoena power.

“We’re not being serious about our civilian review,” Tyus said. “What we’re doing is placating the public.”

But another alderwoman, Tammika Hubbard, said the city needs to do something to address concerns about police.

“We have a race problem,” Hubbard said. “We have problems of police brutality. How do we move forward from that?”

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