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'I saw a need': Nicolle Barton on leading the Civilian Oversight Board

Nicolle Barton became the executive director of the Civilian Oversight Board on Feb. 8, 2016.
Nathan Rubbelke | St. Louis Public Radio

Though members of her family were in law enforcement, Nicolle Barton entered college to be a nurse.

"But I decided to take a criminal justice class, and I fell in love with the aspect of the system, and how it works, and what we could do to change things, improve things, and help people along the process," said Barton, a native of southern Illinois.

Barton took a job with Missouri probation and parole after graduation. She spent 15 years with department, including the last eight in a supervisory role. In August, a job posting from St. Louis caught her eye — executive director, Civilian Oversight Board.

"I was excited that St. Louis wanted to be proactive and get one started so that we could be transparent in the community and help with getting accountability if needed," Barton said. "I want to ensure that citizens who have a complaint against police officers can voice that opinion and be able to have someone who was independent review those complaints and ensure that there’s a bridge being built between the community and law enforcement."

Barton officially began her new position Feb. 8, and she’s been busy. 

"I have already written the mission statement, come up with strategies and goals that we want to work on," she said. "I’m working on the complaint process, and what to put on the internet. We want to have the community know exactly what to do and where to do it if they want to file a complaint. We want to it to be an easy and simple procedure."

How can the civilian oversight board, with your help, build that bridge between community and law enforcement?

We have seven board members who bring a diverse perspectives and strengths to the table. We want to set that 2016 standard of professionalism, and have accountability, and give the community a voice.

By being an independent board, we can oversee what the department is doing. We’ll do our due diligence to investigate the complaints that come to us.

There’s also going to be a mediation component to this that I’m excited about. It gives the citizens and law enforcement officers a chance to express what happened during an event. They can come together and educate each other.

Do you have the tools you need to be a bridge?

I do. We’re working really hard on that. I have reviewed the policy of all the civilian oversight boards in the country to see what’s working and what isn’t, and how we avoid the pitfalls. I want St. Louis to be an example for other cities in the future to follow. We have an important job here to do.

How are you going to measure success?

Success would be a reduced number of complaints. I’m building a system that will track all the complaints. If there’s a district that has more complaints than others, or an officer that has more complaints than others, we’ll work hard as a team to express the fact that there may be a need for the officers to get more training.

But we want to work really hard to get the input from the community, because that’s important as well.

Do you have buy-in from the officers you will be overseeing?

I believe so. I think that the officers want to have integrity as well. The officers as a whole want to be seen in a good light. They want to protect citizens in a way that is seen as good and just.

Follow Rachel Lippmann on Twitter: @rlippmann

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

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