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Proposed shift in who investigates officer-involved shootings in St. Louis delayed

Kim Gardner
File photo | Jason Rosenbaum | St. Louis Public Radio
St. Louis circuit attorney Kim Gardner, shown here in a 2016 file photo, will have to wait a bit to see if the Board of Aldermen gives her office the authority to investigate officer-involved shootings.

An effort to give the St. Louis Circuit Attorney’s office the responsibility of investigating officer-involved shootings has stalled at the Board of Aldermen.

The board’s public safety committee heard a second day of testimony on the bill Wednesday but did not vote. Because of the board’s process for approving legislation, there’s likely not enough time to send the bill to Mayor Lyda Krewson before the session ends in April.

The measure, sponsored by Alderman Brandon Bosley, D-3rd Ward, would give prosecutor Kim Gardner another $1.3 million a year to pay for investigators and attorneys who would exclusively handle officer-involved shootings. Gardner has been asking for the money since October, and said she’s prepared to fight again for what she called a "critical change."

“Public trust is vital for our criminal justice system to work effectively,” she said. “Ensuring a fair and impartial process of officer-involved shootings is central to establishing this trust.”

Since 2014, a special division of the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department, called the Force Investigation Unit, has collected evidence in officer-involved killings and passed it along to the circuit attorney. Prosecutors then determine whether evidence supports filing criminal charges against the officer. In 2015, Gardner’s predecessor, Jennifer Joyce, began doing her own parallel investigations, although she had to rely on the police department for things like ballistic evidence and DNA testing.

Gardner wants her office in charge of the investigation, with her staff handling tasks like interviewing witnesses and determining what evidence needs to be collected.

An attorney for the St. Louis Police Officers Association told the committee last week that its members didn’t think the office deciding whether to charge officers with a crime should also be the one investigating cases. The attorney, Brian Millikan, proposed a multi-jurisdictional task force like the Major Case Squad that would handle officer-involved shooting cases throughout the region.

Follow Rachel on Twitter: @rlippmann

Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.