Police Accountability

The murder of George Floyd – along with hundreds of other similar deaths across the country – demands a bold new approach to policing and criminal justice. President Barack Obama calls on us to turn our anguish into action. 

St. Louis County must answer his call. Yet, our current police chief is in denial that systemic racism exists in our police department. We have to stop denying what’s happening and begin to understand why. That’s the first step.

George Floyd died because he was Black.  The Forward Through Ferguson report on The State of Police Reform reports that in Missouri Blacks are incarcerated at almost four times the rate of Whites[1]. It is time for St. Louis County to declare that being non-White is not a crime, let alone a justification for homicide.   

Addressing these parallel priorities – reducing the killing and shooting by police of civilians and addressing racial disparities in policing – requires leadership that can work across racial and geographic lines; that will ask tough questions; and that believes the status quo cannot be tolerated for even one more minute. It will take a focus on policy as well as programs and practices to ensure we can systematically identify problem areas and fix them, improving continuously until racial equity in policing is no longer a lofty goal, but a reality.

This is a plan to reduce police brutality in St. Louis County and improve policing practices. As County Executive, I will take a leadership role to ensure assertive action, working with the County Prosecutor. We also will move to address the core issues that contribute to crime, including poor housing and education, lack of jobs and access to healthcare and transportation, among others that reflect the systemic racism that persists today in St. Louis County. 

Demanding Real Police Reform: Immediate Action from a Zimmerman Administration

As County Executive, I will move quickly on multiple fronts.  Here are some of the steps my administration will pursue.

Immediate Actions:

  • My first official act as County Executive will be to sign the Obama Foundation/My Brother’s Keeper “Commit to Action” pledge to set common-sense limits on police use of force, joining President Obama, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser, San Francisco Mayor London Breed and dozens of other mayors and county executives in this nationwide campaign for police use-of-force reform.
  • Require all police departments in St. Louis County to follow the “8 Can’t Wait” recommendations for use-of-force reform, including a ban on chokeholds and strangleholds.
  • Ensure the continuation of positive practices that are currently underway in local police departments.
  • Discipline and terminate officers guilty of misconduct and maintain a transparent database of such officers to ensure they do not move to other departments in the county, beginning with County police. Coordinate with regional police departments for implementation and expansion. 
  • Identify and implement appropriate non-police responses to actions that do not threaten public safety.  For example, the response to mental health crises should be led by mental health professionals, with a goal of reducing police use-of-force.
  • For all police stops, require officers to give civilians their name, badge number, reason for the stop, and a card with instructions for filing a complaint about their treatment by the officer (if needed) to an appropriate authority for investigation and resolution. Conduct independent sampling of all contacts and arrests (i.e. calls for service, car stops, pedestrian stops, search warrants, police reports, and arrests) to determine whether officers are acting appropriately.
  • Refrain from the use of military equipment during peaceful protests and during civil unrest. 
  • Require independent investigation of all cases where police kill or seriously injure civilians and require all such cases to be sent to the grand jury at the conclusion of the investigation.
  • Expand ongoing diversity initiatives and devote the resources necessary to build diversity and cultural awareness throughout the St. Louis County Police Department.
  • Increase funding for community-based solutions to crime and violence.

Long-term Change

  • Expand the scope, authority and effectiveness of civilian oversight.  
    • Give the Board of Police Commissioners expanded authority over public disciplinary hearings, disciplining and dismissing police officers.  
    • Establish a civilian Police Review Board to receive, investigate and resolve all civilian complaints against police, with subpoena power for internal evidence collection. 
    • Establish policies and procedures to assure community access to both bodies’ deliberations and meaningful community involvement in selection of Board members.  
  • Ensure that the cash bail system does not result in the incarceration of people because they are economically vulnerable.  No one should be detained awaiting trial solely because they cannot pay the price of bail.  
  • Conduct a comprehensive examination of how we balance our investment in policing with our investment in services that expand choices and resources for our most vulnerable neighbors and family members.  
    • Identify which roles are best handled by police, and which can be shifted to others with specific skills. 
    • Use the results of this analysis to determine the proportion of investment in policing, housing, healthcare, home ownership, education and more in future County budgets over time. 
  • Examine and share data annually with citizens in St. Louis County about the performance of all law enforcement agencies working in the county as it relates to outcomes by race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, and geography.
  • Begin a new era of information transparency and exchange among St. Louis County Police departments and municipalities – as well as the general public – on key policing issues, such as police conduct, use-of-force and shootings and killings of civilians by officers. Our community has the right to know which crimes are happening where, whether the police are involved or not. 
  • Establish aggressive systems within the Police Department for recording and monitoring all use-of-force by officers and use this data to establish an early intervention system to correct the behaviors of officers who are utilizing excessive force.  
  • Expand ongoing diversity and inclusion initiatives and devote the resources necessary to ensure we have an inclusive and culturally aware environment throughout the St. Louis County Police Department.  

As our nation considers how to address the crisis of racism in American policing, St. Louis County can choose to watch from the sidelines or to lead.  I choose to lead in the fight for institutional and systemic change.  My commitment to the residents of St. Louis County is to deploy our resources in a better way, to make our County the kind of place where all of our citizens of all races will feel safe in their homes and lives, and proud of the police force that helps them feel that way.  

[1] The State of Police Reform report in Sept. 2019 found that 1.59% of Missouri’s Black population was incarcerated in 2016, compared to 0.42% of the white population (based on population estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau and the annual report of the Missouri Department of Corrections).