Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Watching the watchers?

The Political Eye asks an important question:
The EYE may be missing something, but when a police department is admitting that it has fudged crime reports, is conducting illegal background checks for organizations, and has had its tactics of rounding up homeless people declared unconstitutional, somebody at the top needs to be held accountable.


So, now inquiring EYES want to know why there have been no calls for an investigation of the police department by Slay or his fellow members of the Police Commission?
There is an ongoing and contentious debate over the possible appointment of a civilian review board for the Saint Louis Police Department. While the department is hesitant to allow such oversight, incidents like these only add to public pressure.

Mayor Francis Slay and the author of the civilian review legislation, Alderman Terry Kennedy (18th Ward), are in agreement that a review board can bring an additional level of oversight and provide the people of St. Louis another way to have their grievances addressed. They differ in whether the members should be elected or appointed, however. Slay believes that electing members would only create more tension and increased divisiveness.

Despite the best intentions, anyone who has seen St. Louis politics in action will have a hard time arguing that it will not quickly spread to the review board elections.

While the SLPD is certainly wary of having another set of eyes looking over their shoulder, the opacity with which the SLPD deals with incidents will only add to some people's suspicions and increase the pressure for the review board.

Police work is difficult, dangerous and far from clean. The public needs to remember the difficult position the officers often find themselves in and consider that before assuming there is an inherent animus to their actions.

The recent abhorrent comments from two DJs on 100.3 The Beat advising on tactics to disable a police officer and keep them from calling for help should highlight to everyone the environment the SLPD operates in on a daily basis. They are asked to deal with everything we are either unable or unwilling to handle and face a constant barrage of criticism.

Some criticism is justified. There are a few bad officers who shouldn't wear a badge. However, much of the criticism stems from mistakes made by officers trying to do their best in a bad situation.

That said, the SLPD needs to open itself up and take strong public action when it needs to be taken. A civilian review board may help relieve some of the animosity directed towards the department, but the department would do even better by being up-front and proactive when problems arise.

- Murphy

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