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Estimate Board takes steps for racial equity

CITY HALL – The city’s chief financial body moved ahead Wednesday on three measures meant to ensure greater racial equity in city police and government.

Six years after the Ferguson disturbances brought the first call for body cameras for police, the Board of Estimate and Apportionment approved a $5.8 million five-year contract to provide the cameras, starting July 1. 

The board also passed  a resolution favoring actions designed to make police more accountable and to “help ensure that all people are treated equal under the law in the City of St. Louis.” The resolution, introduced by Comptroller Darlene Green, calls for the mayor to issue an executive order and the Board of Aldermen to pass an ordinance establishing the accountability measure as law.

The board also voted to reduce allocations in its 2020-2021 budgets for the Medium Security Institution (the workhouse) and the police overtime budget to allow for more money for the human services and neighborhood programs. 

The action longest in coming, the approval of body cameras for police, received accolades from all three members of the estimate board. 

The contract with Utility Associates Inc. of Decatur, Ga., calls for the company to provide 800 body cameras, 200 in-car systems and related equipment. The city will pay for it over the five-year term of the contract. 

Mayor Lyda Krewson said a committee of the St. Louis Police Officers Association had said it had no objections to the contract for the cameras.

Board of Aldermen President Lewis Reed said efforts to get the cameras started after the killing of Michael Brown in 2014 in Ferguson.

Reed said it was good that the police officers association was on board. 

“We need to find ways to heal the divide that exists between law enforcement and the community,” Reed said. “Body cameras have been one of those things that have helped a little across the country.” 

Use of the cameras also can help bring down legal fees, he said. 

Much of the discussion about the resolution on police accountability was about how much effect it would have.

“It has absolute zero power,” Reed said. He compared it to a resolution saying Donald Trump could no longer use the Oval Office.

Reed said it might be better for the Board of Aldermen to enact an ordinance putting the accountability measures into place.

The resolution calls for elimination of excessive force, including deadly force, against those who are unarmed or subdued. It also would establish a registry of police officers whose misconduct calls into question their ability to enforce the law impartially.

The measure also seeks the implementation of a Zero Tolerance Accountability Action Plan for dealing with police brutality. Part of that plan would eliminate qualified immunity from lawsuits for police officers. That immunity is in place in all cases except when officers clearly violate a law or a right under the constitution.  

Mayor Lyda Krewson said she could support all of the resolution except the part about qualified immunity. She wasn’t sure whether the city could do that legally. After Reed and Green wouldn’t remove that part, Krewson voted against the resolution. Reed and Green voted in favor of it.

In matters involving the city’s tight budget for the 2020-2021 fiscal year starting July 1, the board voted to take $860,000 out of the budget for the Medium Security Institution (the Workhouse) and use it for a new program called Cops and Clinicians. 

That program would send social workers and mental health workers with police in calls to people who might need their services. 

In addition, the board cut the budget for police department overtime to $6.7 million from $9.3 million. The money saved would be used to restore a $1.1 million cut from the Workforce Development Board and a $1.5 million cut from the St. Louis Neighborhood Revitalization program.

Budget Director Paul Payne cautioned that the city would probably have to add back money to the police overtime budget. 

“The cuts have to be realistic,” Payne said. “By the second half of the year, you’re going to have an issue..”

Payne also said the money wasn’t spent in the workforce development and neighborhood revitalization budgets last year.

Jim Merkel Born and raised in the St. Louis area, Jim Merkel covered communities throughout the area from 1991 to 2013 for the old Suburban Journals of Greater St. Louis. He is the author of five books about the Gateway City published by Reedy Press. The latest is Growing Up St. Louis: Looking Back Through the Decades. He and his wife, Lorraine, live in the Bevo Mill neighborhood of south St. Louis with Miss Jenny the Cat. For more about Jim, visit

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