CITY HALL – Circuit Attorney Kimberly Gardner gave a spirited defense of her controversial approach to running her office, in a Board of Aldermen committee meeting last week.
“I hear a lot of people say I don’t get along with police,” Gardner said in a teleconference session of the aldermanic Public Safety Committee on June 9. “I get along with police officers who go out and do their job the right way, following the law and enforcing it when it needs to be enforced.”
She defended the list of officers she’s made who are excluded from bringing cases to her office. Factors involved include alleged lack of truthfulness and racial bias.
“My job is not to get along with every police officer all the time. My job is to serve my community,” she said.
“If certain police officers are angry because we are increasing accountability, then so be it,” Gardner said. “If Jeff Roorda is mad because we are holding police accountable, then we’re doing the right thing.”
Roorda is business manager of the St. Louis Police Officers Association.
To improve public safety and reduce harm, Gardner said, it’s important that we get to the root of crime and treat it as a public health crisis. Officials need to address the economic and mental health issues that cause people to commit crime. They should invest needed resources before people commit crime, she said.
“We must stop the sole reliance on arresting and incarcerating people as a strategy,” she said.
Gardner said it was important to reform the criminal justice system to make it more just. This would involve cutting the number of people in prison.
Figures Gardner provided indicated that her office was pickier about whom she should charge than it was under her predecessor.
The figures show that her office issued charges in 40 percent of cases referred by police to her office in 2019. Her office issued charges in 33 percent of cases referred to her office in 2018; and 38 percent in 2017.
In 2016, before she became circuit attorney, the office issued charges in 49 percent of cases from police. The office issued charges in 48 percent of cases in 2015.
“It’s still within the same range,” Gardner said.
She also emphasized that her office’s felony conviction rate was about as high as before she took office. That rate was 97.75 percent in 2015 and 98.53 percent in 2016, before she became circuit attorney; it was 96.8 percent in 2018 and 96.15 percent in 2019, after she took the job.
“The proof is in the numbers, and the numbers do not lie,” she said.
“It’s not because police are not doing their job. There are many factors, like there are not witnesses, no one wants to come forward,” Gardner said. “Every time a police officer makes an arrest, it does not automatically come to my office for charges.”
In 2019, Gardner’s office issued charges in 30 percent of cases of possession of a controlled substance except a small amount of marijuana. Other issuance rates for crimes in which there were a large number of cases are: armed criminal action, 33 percent; unlawful use of a weapon, 28 percent; unlawful possession of drug paraphernalia, 21 percent; and property damage first degree, 37 percent.