Future of Policing in St. Louis

Becky RasmussenNews

On Jan. 31, 2018, St. Louis – in partnership with the Missouri History Museum and Civic Progress – brought together some of the most important voices in the region on the question of the “Future of Policing in St. Louis.” The conversation was nothing less than remarkable. As an audience member said after the conversation with an eye on the panelists: “If you were to ask me what I want the future of policing in St. Louis to look like … I’m looking at it.” What follows is a summary of this intense conversation.

Panelists included (starting on the right in the picture above):

  • Judge Jimmie Edwards, Director, Department of Public Safety, City of St. Louis, and former St. Louis Circuit Court Judge
  • Reverend Gill Ford, community member with decades of experience facilitating policy/community relations and monitoring police use-of-force investigations
  • Representative Bruce Franks, Jr., one of the most visible and vocal (and occasionally arrestable) leaders of the police protest and reform movement in St. Louis
  • Colonel John Hayden, Chief of Police and 30-year veteran of the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department (SLMPD)

To open the discussion Dr. Wally Siewert, the moderator, borrowed an idea from Forward Through Ferguson (with permission, thank you FTF!) and asked the panelists what they would like policing in St. Louis to look like in 2039—25 years after the death of Michael Brown.

Chief Hayden pointed out the likely prevalence in 2039 of new and widespread technology. This could mean both police officers and criminal elements will be subject to radical transparency as ever-increasing and accessible camera coverage captures vehicles, license plates, identities, and events. Levels of technological competency and professionalism among officers will need to increase, likely meaning that the current standard of a high-school diploma for the Academy will have to be adjusted to be more demanding.

Learn about the SLMPD’s Real Time Crime Center (launched in 2015), which gathers data from various sources around the city into a central command hub.

The St. Louis Board of Estimate and Apportionment voted to move ahead with a one-year free trial for body cameras last year, though not much has been heard about that program recently.

Check out the article about the “ShotSpotter” gun sound tracking system.

Rep. Franks also indicated that the vetting process for recruits to the Department will have to change, given that the current vetting process is “for lack of a better term…kind of tainted.” This would include better avenues and incentives for minority recruitment so a demographically 50/50 city can have a demographically 50/50 police department. Further he called for the implementation of social work models into the department so that when they are called into the community there is “this sense of engagement, this sense of help, sense of prevention, not just enforcement.”

See details of the Minority Recruitment Program.

Rev. Ford indicated some of the changes that might be made to the certification process for officers by the state’s P.O.S.T. (Peace Officers’ Standards and Training), including disqualification based on criminal history and decertification as a consequence for misdeeds in uniform.

For comparison, check out best practices from Colorado P.O.S.T.

Judge Edwards sought to clarify at the outset of his answer that “The St. Louis Police Department is a good police department.” While also admitting there are some who “perhaps should not be police officers.” He then echoed Rep. Franks’ point about policing being “about more than going out arresting people, it’s about developing relationships, understanding the community.” A focus on these sides of policing are necessary to do what the Judge is most concerned about: eliminating the trust gap between police and the community. “We have conveyed very clearly to rank and file that the purpose of the constitution is to protect the people from the government. We are the government. And we have to show restraint.”

Given that both Rep. Franks and Judge Edwards gave a nod to more problem solving models of policing (as opposed to simply arrest and incarcerate) and given that this kind of approach is often called “Community Oriented Policing,” take a look at the federal Department of Justice’s resource page for COPS (Community Oriented Policing Services).

Dr. Siewert next asked the panelist what kinds of policing reform we should be seeing immediately in order to get us to our vision of policing in 2039?

Judge Edwards highlighted the importance of wellness support for members of the force, including annual mental health reviews, career-long learning and training, as well as carefully scrutinizing new recruits. He also emphasizes the need to support our police officers. “when we don’t support our police officers they stop policing. And I think some of that may have happened, just recently, they just stopped policing, because they need our support.” He also pointed to the need to make disciplinary processes more transparent. “When officers have done wrong and we have substantiated that, then…I will know their names, you will know their names, and you will know the disposition [outcome of disciplinary processes].” He also pointed to the citizens’ responsibilities toward police, treating them with respect and participating in the criminal justice process. “We can’t just criticize and criticize and criticize these officers and expect they will go out and continue to do a good job….they are human beings.”

For information on past issues with the disciplinary processes referenced by Judge Edwards see the 2016 report by the Ethical Society of Police, linked by the Post-Dispatch. (Be aware that this is a report filed not by an objective observer, but by an interested party. The Ethical Society of Police is a union representing mostly African American officers).

Rev. Ford spoke on the subject of disparate response actions in disparate neighborhoods, pointing out that in certain communities officers are prone to unbuckle and draw their weapon as a first response, while in other communities officers may fail to draw their weapons when they need to, based on false assumptions about the people they are interacting with. “When they don’t follow their training they jeopardize themselves and the community.” That training must include respectful treatment of members of the community at everything from traffic stops to SWAT deployments.

Rep. Franks took a step back from the question and pointed out that “In order to fix a problem you have to recognize that you have a problem.” “The Police Department has to realize they are not a good police department….yet […] It’s not acceptable for anybody to accept that they are going to stop policing because somebody treats them a certain way. I don’t get to stop being a state Rep. because I get racist emails.” He points out that the “small amount” of officers who shouldn’t be there are often concentrated in economically distressed and black communities.

Referencing the 200+ murders in our city every year Rep. Franks points out that “when folks are exercising their first amendment rights we have riot gear, we have armored trucks, we have unlimited resources. We don’t see these resources exercised throughout the year in our crime-ridden neighborhoods!” He emphasizes that we don’t expect the department to be perfect, but until the department is ready to say “You know what? We screwed up. But this is what we are gonna do to fix it” the trust gap will continue to grow.

Chief Hayden emphasized his own record on accountability, especially in his 6 years in command of Internal Affairs. “I have terminated officers, and I’m not just talking about one or two or three. I was around when we assisted the FBI with an investigation that sent officers to federal prison.” He says he expects the community to hold him accountable. “I respect your skepticism. But at the end of the day you’ll be able to judge for yourself: ‘is that guy just full of hot air? Or is he actually changing the culture of the agency?’” Acknowledging that racial tensions in the police department are “not a myth” Chief Hayden pointed out that messaging and discipline through training starts at the top, and “I’m not going to give an excuse, I’m not interested in covering up.”

View Chief Hayden’s bio and statement about the SLMPD.

Check out the 2016 St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department’s Annual Report to the Community.

Judge Edwards emphasized both his own record as a judge and the need to train a teach officers to be better: “I’m firm. I’m fair. I’m not very tolerant at all with respect to a lot of things. Race issues….I’ve got a problem with that. [At roll call I have been] having a conversation with our officers about our expectations, about culture, competency, about being decent, about being respectful. But at the same time, you can’t be critical all the time every day. So I let them know how important they are to our city. So yes, I start every conversation by saying we have a good police department. […] Too often I hear people criticize our officers, when when something happens, they call our officers. That’s a contradiction. […] If we want them to be better, let’s teach them; let’s train them to be better. [To his fellow panelists] and that’s why I appreciate the conversation, because what you have to say is important to me.”

Rev. Ford “My challenge to what I am hearing is: I believe it is good to tell your officers that we have a good department. But if you don’t emphasize the fact that our expectation is that we going to have a great department, folk don’t think they gotta change! […] How many more hours are you going to train somebody before you expect them to live up to that training and know there will be accountability?” He emphasizes the fact that the leadership sets the standard for the culture of the department. “If the Chief is going to enforce the investigation of what officers do, and there’s going to be consequences, that changes the climate of the department itself.” On the question of police unions that often get involved in such investigations he recognizes that their job is to represent the officers, but asks: “If you represent someone that you know has done wrong, what do you think that does to the integrity and character of the department as a whole?” As an example of the kinds of cultural things that have to change he describes some of his ride-along experiences in which police approaching a noisy house party in an affluent neighborhood “are busy saying ‘yes sir’ and ‘yes ma’am’ to everybody, and then I watch them walk into our neighborhood and just kick the door down. […] Whatever the Chief does when a situation arises, that is where you can begin to build community trust.”

St. Louis Police Officers Association (FOP Lodge 68)

Ethical Society of Police

Dr. Siewert points out that we are having a good conversation about perhaps the most difficult aspect of policing to change, the department’s culture as it has evolved over decades. He then brings up a question that has come up on the tweet wall in the room: “What is the current strength of the police department? And is that enough? What do we need moving forward?”

Chief Hayden answers the question regarding the number of police officers, pointing out that the authorized number of officers currently is 1307, and that we are 125 officers short of that level at the moment.

Rep. Franks interprets the question a little differently, and speaks to what he sees as the current strengths of the department as a whole. “I have worked with the police department heavily ever since I have been involved with the community, even when my activist family—who I love dearly—don’t necessarily agree. One of the strengths of our department is our actual community engagement department, Captain Perri Johnson and everyone in that particular part. I think the only issue is we don’t have enough of that.” He points to the support he has gotten from officers affiliated with that department over the years, and also to the fact that demographically the community engagement department “directly reflects the community they police, and I think that speaks to a bigger need.”

Dr. Siewert asks about the plans to bring the police up to full force, including making sure that we are hiring the right people, and hiring a force demographically reflective of the community.

Chief Hayden points out that the current rate of graduating cadets from the academy is just keeping up with the attrition rate. Instead of three classes of 25 students each they need four classes of 40 students each. This would allow them to get up to strength within a few years. But this is not happening. Minority recruitment is a particularly challenging issue.

St. Louis Police Academy

Rep. Franks addresses the minority recruitment point by emphasizing the importance of the Minority recruitment program, and giving credit to the Regional Chamber for funding the program this year. This program is like a pre-academy class preparing recruits to be successful at the academy. Emphasizing the diversity of the participants Rep. Franks explains: “what will happen is we have a white male from west county who comes in and is now in a class with folks that live in this community that they’re gonna be policing. And outside of the class they start to hang out together. And they start to learn from each other, and he starts to learn the community.” Rep. Franks also expresses his thankfulness for the new leadership of Judge Edwards and Chief Hayden as in the past, “some of the African American officers were getting looked into a lot deeper than some of the white officers.” He relates a story in which a minority recruitment program participant was pushed out of the process because he was “in Facebook pictures with all red on, and was throwing up a sign with his hand.” This caused the reviewers to conclude he was in a gang. When the truth is that he was a member of the Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity (Chief indicates he is also a Kappa). These are the kind of extra hurdles minority recruits face.

Read recent article from the St. Louis American about the Minority Recruitment program.

Dr. Siewert asks about the issue of mental health in the community and the amount of calls the police get to deal with mental health issues. He also points to the audience and asks what the panelists need from leadership in the non-profit, corporate, and community organization world to do their job best?

Chief Hayden emphasizes that almost all the officers at this point have crisis intervention training. He points out how often the police get calls from EMS saying they need help restraining someone. Instead of bringing simple enforcement along to such a call, he would love to see social service providers there ahead of them, or with them, to provide the wrap-around services that can prevent such encounters.

Rep. Franks identifies the lack of mental health resources in especially the economically distressed neighborhoods that need them most. “IDing those resources, being creative on how to combine and get those resources for our community, and trying to create something…I don’t know how this works, but BHR has the 24 hour crisis hotline…being able to link that with our department and actually have someone show up with them.”

Missouri Foundation for Health provides grant to Behavioral Health Response for Virtual-Mobile Crisis Intervention Program.

Learn more about the St. Louis Area Crisis Intervention Team.

Rev. Ford points out the wider historical and societal problems that have led to the current lack of mental health resources, beginning with the emptying of the mental health hospitals in the 70’s all the way through to today. He emphasizes that while this is a wider issue not caused by the police, “This is a reality law enforcement is going to have to be prepared to deal with.”

Dr. Siewert next moves the discussion to protest response: “This city has gotten national attention repeatedly due to these issues. I would like to ask, given the court order, given the attention we’ve gotten, given the change in leadership this panel represents, can we talk a little about how the department might change that response moving forward?”

Judge Edwards’ first point was to emphasize that “I have made it very clear, to Chief Hayden, as well as all the commanders and rank and file, that citizens have a right to protest. […] our responsibility is to protect the right of citizens to protest and to make sure that we do nothing that would cause us to escalate, if you will, any of the issues going on out there. So long as citizens are not breaking the law they have a right to protest. […] I like a good revolution, so long as it is lawful!” He also emphasized (for the first time in public to our knowledge) “Kettling is wrong, and it’s illegal. It will not happen” (his emphasis).

CNN article about kettling with footage from St. Louis protests

Post-Dispatch coverage of the night of the kettling tactic, including the arrest of reporter Mike Faulk

Article about Mike Faulk’s lawsuit stemming from the night of his arrest

In seeking to implement Judge Edwards’ public safety policies on this front Chief Hayden described the current state of his review process. Indicating that as a department they are going back through and reviewing footage from the protests going all the way back to the “workhouse incident.” When the internal review is done he has already committed to Rep. Franks and Rev. Darryl Gray that he will be reaching out to them next to get their input. In describing his own experience at the workhouse protests (pictured here) Chief Hayden said “Bruce [Franks Jr.] and I were face-to-face in a couple of them, so we got a chance to learn each other out there in a real practical way (laughter…) […] we had some very spirited conversation out there, but now we’re sitting here. We’ve also had some very calm ones since, that’s something I appreciate! We have a respectful relationship with each other, know what I’m saying? So we’re proof that it can work.” He remembers a protester relentlessly shouting through a megaphone: “They think it’s a game! They think it’s a joke!” That resonated in him because it’s not a game, it’s not a joke according to him. Instead he wants protests to be “good nights” where “folks get to express their constitutional rights, they are protected by the police, and we also observe public safety at the same time.”

Protester YouTube video of the confrontation outside the workhouse in July 2017, including footage of Chief Hayden, and the use of chemical agents against protesters (warning, raw footage).

Collection of photos of the Workhouse protest

Chief Hayden referenced Rev. Darryl Gray as another leader of the protest movement he would be consulting with. Here is an article about Gray’s arrest during the protest outside Busch Stadium, the same protest that brought then-Colonel Hayden and Rep. Franks to exchange heated words.

Rev. Ford emphasizes the consequences of the police being a para-military organization, describing how in Ferguson the day after Michael Brown was killed he was working with the Dept. of Justice to create spaces for people to march, and then “I watched it escalate as soon as the officers showed up with their riot gear.” He explains how the pre-emptive donning of riot gear was a self-fulfilling prophecy. “Look at the pictures when the police first showed up to where Michael Brown was shot. They had dogs and riot gear, already taped off! Before the family even got notified! So they already told the community ‘we coming into your community, we ready for you!” Rev. Ford makes the point that you can’t do that and “think that people aren’t going to realize that ‘ya’ll getting ready to get in a fight, so I might as well get in my fight posture too! And I may not have a weapon, but I’m going to find a brick, a stick, a bottle or something, and I’m going to try to get you before you get me!” The question at the top of his mind when he sees these interactions is: “Who’s the professional in the room? They are going to have to take charge and say ‘wait a minute!’” The onus to back off and keep things peaceful is on the police as the professionals.

Rep. Franks’ first response to the question on protests was to emphasize his optimism in light of the new leadership. “I’m glad that Judge Edwards is the Public Safety Director because one thing he understands, probably better than anybody else, is the law.” However he goes on to lament the initial approach that was taken regarding communications between law enforcement and the protesters as the Stockley verdict came closer this year. He describes how at these meetings a captain pronounced “these are our rules of engagement.” He did not allow any kind of exchange or dialogue on these rules. In response Rep. Franks decided to question one of the rules, requiring a 5 foot distance between protesters and law enforcement: “How you gonna enforce that? What law can you put in place to enforce that I gotta be five feet away from you?” and next describes his actions at the protest.

“Nobody’s yelling, nobody’s saying anything, we silent as a matter of fact. And we standin there. But our very presence had them nervous…”five feet, five feet” And I moved up to the front, so that if you all advance, or do anything you gotta do it to me first. And with all these cameras around, that’s gonna make a fuss. And folks behind me probably don’t have the resources that I have.” […] “and to reiterate about the riot gear and assault rifles…that didn’t deter or scare us. That made me want to walk right up to the assault rifle, while its pointed, and put it right at my forehead to let ‘em know, we not scared, we not goin anywhere!”

St. Louis American and St. Louis Public Radio articles about the federal investigation into civil rights violations during SLMPD’s response to the Stockley protests

St. Louis Public Radio article about Aldermanic efforts to change the police response to protests

Rep. Franks also turned to Judge Edwards to acknowledge his statement on kettling: “I’m glad that you noticed, and that you have said publically that is wrong, and illegal.” In describing the rocky start to his relationship with Chief Hayden Rep. Franks said with a wry smile: “I didn’t like Chief Hayden for about three days… (laughter) […] but after that Chief Hayden and I had a conversation, an in-depth conversation, and it’s going to continue to build off of that. We got our ears open. We giving you all the chance to do your job. Cause that’s what has to happen.”  He also encourage both the police and protesters to begin talking to each other, instead of just talking at each other: “You start having that conversation and it opens up a whole window of opportunity.”

Post-Dispatch article on Chief Hayden, including an image of the confrontation reference by Rep. Franks between then Colonel Hayden and Rep. Franks during a Sept. 29, 2017, demonstration outside of Busch Stadium.

Sensing that the conversation was plowing seemingly fertile ground for progress Dr. Siewert pushed just a little further on the protest question: “Even the most disciplined and organized protest, if it is seeking to gain some goal, often is going to cross that line from pure legality, such as closing down the highway for 10 minutes, such as going down a non-approved path for the march, such as creating some economic pain…that is after all a long tradition in the civil rights movement, creating economic pain through protest. So there is that gray area, where the protesters are pushing, and the police are pushing back. What might allow us to do that and not have it blow up?”

Judge Edwards points to the relationship between Chief Hayden and Rep. Franks as a good example of how to manage these situations. He places responsibility on both the police and the protesters to avoid unnecessary or violent confrontation and keep everyone safe. He points out the possibility of some “knucklehead” doing 100mph on the highway and running over protesters, and he simultaneously holds the leaders of the protest accountable for safety while also lauding Rep. Franks’ role in stepping forward to work with the police. Finally, he laments the broken window at the Central West End Library (pictured left) that resulted from protests there: “There was no reason to break that window pane. You didn’t accomplish anything!”

Indicating that he is not talking about the Judge, Rep. Franks begs to disagree with people that like to hold up the example of Martin Luther King as a counterpoint to some of the ways in which the protests have gotten out of hand: “They say ‘do it the way Martin would have done it’…but we forget that Martin said ‘Rioting is the language of the unheard.’” And speaking about his own experience at the protests he explains: “I didn’t come out there to throw something through a window personally…but we have to understand that folks are feeling unheard. Folks are feeling as if this is the only time that we can get this attention that we need. […] And then we have officers not coming to protect the people, but the buildings. When we have our national guard here that are stationed at all of the firehouses and folks in the third ward have to drive down Salisbury and see a military presence, but they haven’t seen a military presence all year with the things that have been going on in their community…so they’re gonna be upset. […and] we all punched something or kicked something when we are upset, when somebody pissed us off. We have all hit something, and we have done it for way less reason than not having resources.”

Article on the 1966 interview with Mike Wallace in which the King quote referenced by Rep. Frank appears.

As for unlawful assembly Rep. Franks credits Judge Edwards for helping him to understand that often it is not about where you assemble, but how you assemble. He reiterates that the objective of the protests is to “take the biggest platform to get your message heard. So if I know that the Governor has been spending every resource to protect this highway, and keep folks off this highway…[then] we gonna get on this highway!” But it is not an unplanned and unorganized process. “We had emergency lanes for anybody that needed to go or emergency vehicles. We had folks walking through the lanes making sure everybody was ok, nobody was pregnant, nobody was ill, nobody was on their way to the hospital. But that’s not the stuff that is going to get reported, even though we told everybody that.”

Despite the dangers both from the environment and an overzealous police response he points out that the protesters are willing to put their life on the line, “just like officers are willing to put their life on the line, by putting that badge on, by accepting the job, and [pointing to his skin] we got this uniform and this armor that we can’t take off. So we actually make sure when we are organizing that we are doing what we can to make folks safe, but at the end of the day we know what we signed up for going out there.”

Rev. Ford echoes Rep. Franks’ point: “The issue of a protest is to draw attention. You don’t draw attention by going to a library and sitting quietly. […] People forget history, the only thing that drew attention to the civil rights movement was when folks watched bloody Sunday occur.” He also references the problem of powers-that-be ignoring problems for too long. He says he was meeting with people about the workhouse problem 10 years ago, but it kept getting ignored.

Chief Hayden, describing the balance he believes could exist in such protest situations also references the workhouse protest: “So the balance is, people have a right to protest, they were heard. The Mayor put the AC in, but there was still a police confrontation because people were climbing the fence, that I think was unnecessary. If we (police and protesters) were working together it wouldn’t have happened.

Dr. Siewert interjects as a final thought: “So perhaps a foundational lesson here is open lines of communication between police and protesters?”

“Absolutely!” Chief Hayden responds.