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Round 2 for Ferguson's civilian review board

Ferguson Mayor James Knowles listens to public testimony on Saturday about a proposed consent decree. Knowles and the rest of the city council could vote on whether to accept the 131-page agreement on Tuesday.
File photo |Carolina Hidalgo I St. Louis Public Radio
Ferguson Mayor James Knowles and the rest of the Ferguson City Council, pictured here in February 2016, have introduced changes to the city's civilian review board.

The city of Ferguson took a big step Tuesday night toward a major policy requirement of its federal civil rights consent decree.

Council members introduced legislation that will make changes to the city's civilian review board. The council originally approved the board back in April, but it never met at the request of the Department of Justice, which wanted changes in the way it was set up.

The new legislation would give the review board more duties and more independence from the Ferguson City Council. For example:

  • Board members would apply for the nine available positions and be appointed by the City Council. Previously, the City Council controlled the nominating process.
  • The board itself would be in charge of coming up with a procedure to remove members who violate its bylaws, or federal, state and local laws. The previous version gave that power to the City Council.
  • Board members would be in charge of not only reviewing police department investigations of officer misconduct, they would also serve on the panels that hire and promote officers. However, they could not then turn around and review a complaint made against an officer they helped hire or promote.
  • The Ferguson Police Department would have to notify the board when it has completed a preliminary investigation into officer misconduct. The original version contained no such notification requirement.
  • The police department and the city "shall ensure that the Board has timely access to appropriate video, reports and records relating to all complaints being investigated by the Board in accordance with applicable laws ... ." There was no requirement to turn over records in the previous version.
  • Board members will be able to consider previous allegations of officer misconduct when deciding on discipline, even if the allegations were never proven.
  • The city has to ensure the board's independence from elected officials.

Activists with the Ferguson Collaborative, though, still had concerns.
"I'm glad that the civilian review board has come to this point. But my concern still is the representation on that board. Is it really going to reflect the community that it serves?" said Mildred Cline,who served on a task force that helped write both pieces of legislation, though the DOJ had the final say.

And Emily Davis thought the review board's members needed to find out about investigations a lot sooner.

"It needs to be amended so that the CRB is actually notified when a complaint comes into the police department because there have been multiple instances where complaints from citizens have simply disappeared," she said.

Mayor James Knowles III said he supported Davis' proposed change, adding that it was the intent all along to make the board aware of any complaints against officers.

The consent decree requires the board to be operating by March 1. City officials said while it's a tight deadline, they expect to be able to meet it.

Follow Rachel on Twitter: @rlippmann

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