Bill would toughen city policy on police use of force

Bill would toughen city policy on police use of force

CITY HALL –  Board of Aldermen President Lewis Reed wants to make sure that city police can’t use the kind of force that brought on the death of George Floyd.

Reed introduced a bill at Friday’s Board of Aldermen meeting directing city Police Commissioner John Hayden to update his department’s use of force policy to reduce abuse by police.

The bill would ban chokeholds or strangleholds as ways to use force. It would require officers to practice de-escalation tactics when possible and appropriate, instead of use of force.  

Also, a police officer would be required to stop or try to stop another officer who is using force that is being applied inappropriately or is no longer necessary. 

“They will be required to intervene,” Reed said.

The police department would have to edit its use of force reporting policy to ensure comprehensive reporting. Officers would have to make a report if a weapon was drawn and pointed at a civilian, regardless of whether a weapon was discharged. 

“As part of use of force, there will be an accountability piece,” Reed said. 

The bill will improve the current use of force policy enacted by the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department, which could lead to a better relationship between the police and the communities they serve,” Mary Goodman, Reed’s legislative director, said in a statement. “ It will also codify these internal policies into law.”

Right now, “It’s just a policy,” Reed said. “This bill in its final form will require [it],” he said. 

Jacob Long, communications director for Mayor Lyda Krewson, said that almost all of what was being proposed in Board Bill 63 was already required of St. Louis police officers and had been for a number of years. 

“In fact, chokeholds and vascular restraint have been banned since 2007, and de-escalation tactics have been required since 2014. So this bill is repetitive,” Long said in an email.

“With that said, Mayor Krewson, with the full support of Chief Hayden and Public Safety Director Judge Jimmie Edwards, is undergoing a review of our existing use of force policies and remains open to common-sense reform,” Long wrote. He said Krewson also signed the Obama Foundation’s Mayoral Pledge/Commitment to Action last week.

Goodman quoted the Ferguson Commission report, which states: “The regular use of force has led many citizens to view the police as an occupying force in their neighborhoods, damaging community trust and making community safety even more difficult.”

According to the report, efforts to repair the relationship between police and the people serve “must begin through changes in use-of-force policies.”

Richard Rosenfeld, a criminologist at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, said he wasn’t familiar with the proposal.

“I certainly am in favor of updating our use of force policy,” he said. 

On the subject of defunding police departments, Rosenfeld said doing it as a way of punishing police was not a good idea. “The way we improve the police is to hire police officers of the kind that most people would like.” 

Reed said that we couldn’t do without a police department but that police officers must be well trained and that there must be structure and transparency.

The mayor has come out against defunding the police department.

“Some people think it means abolishing the police department,” Krewson said. “Some people think it means taking money and moving it from its department to other social services.”

However, the mayor said the department was short about 140 officers with a pay scale that’s not competitive with St. Louis County.

“Those things make it difficult on our recruiting and on our retention, so I don’t think defunding the police department is the best way to get the best police department,” she said. “You don’t take something you want incremental changes in and improvements in and starve them.”

Jeffrey Roorda, business manager for the St. Louis Police Officers Association, said his organization was open to any discussion that helped build trust within the community, keep all citizens safe and move St Louis and the region forward.

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