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St. Louis aldermen advance restructured civilian oversight of police and jails

Major changes to the way St. Louis oversees its police department and jails have cleared their first hurdle.

The Board of Aldermen on Wednesday approved the measure by a 14-3 vote, with four members voting present and one abstaining. But supporters will need 15 votes to pass it at the next meeting Friday.

“This work started 20-something years ago,” said 26th Ward Alderwoman Shameem Clark Hubbard, the measure’s main sponsor. “They knew then that this work would continue to evolve.”

Hubbard has worked on this bill since May 2021, when she and her colleagues approved legislation creating the Detention Facilities Oversight Board. It moves that board, and the Civilian Oversight Board, which helps investigate police misconduct, under the supervision of a commissioner of civilian oversight, and gives them more responsibilities and powers. They would remain in the Department of Public Safety, which also includes the police department and corrections.

Shameem Clark Hubbard (26th Ward), claps after legislation is passed on Monday, April 18, 2022, during the final day of the Board of Alderman’s session at City Hall.
Brian Munoz
St. Louis Public Radio
Alderwoman Shameem Clark Hubbard, shown in April, will have to count votes carefully on Friday to guide her changes to civilian oversight of the police and jails to Mayor Tishaura Jones’ desk.

Hubbard said she tried to find enough support to move the commissioner out from under public safety but was unable to reach a deal. That lack of true independence prompted Alderwoman Sharon Tyus of the 1st Ward to vote present.

“If we’re going to do it, shake it up and write something that’s really, truly independent,” she said.

The measure also gives Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner authority to set up a public integrity unit, which would investigate police misconduct, including officer-involved shootings. Gardner has wanted that authority since 2017, her first year in office.

The measure does not specifically lay out how that unit would work with officers who currently investigate use-of-force incidents, and the lack of clarity bothered Alderman Tom Oldenburg of the 16th Ward.

An officer-involved shooting, he said, is still a police scene that would require the presence of at least some St. Louis police officers for security and other matters.

“So there will need to be some level of cooperation and understanding a protocol that happens there,” Oldenburg said.

He asked Hubbard if she would be willing to hold the bill through the summer break to continue working on it. Hubbard declined the request, pointing out that the provisions of the bill will not take effect for a year after it’s approved.

“Our constituents deserve this trust-building document, this trust-building policy, to continue to move,” she said.

The vote counting

As it stands, the current roll call is not enough to send the measure to Mayor Tishaura Jones – that requires 15 votes.

Two of the board members who voted present are listed as co-sponsors of the bill, and Hubbard said she plans to talk to them ahead of Friday’s meeting. Another co-sponsor was in attendance at the meeting but did not vote.

The margin of error may grow a bit on Friday, when Jimmy Lappe, who was elected Tuesday as alderman for the 11th Ward, is sworn in. His vote will be critical on this issue and also on the passage of a separate bill that uses federal coronavirus relief money to help people travel to access abortion.

Follow Rachel on Twitter: @rlippmann 

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