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New city law cracks down on police use of force

CITY HALL – A new St. Louis law on use of force by city police officers really only codifies policy going back years. 

The Board of Aldermen approved on July 8 a bill on use of force. On Monday, Mayor Lyda Krewson’s communications director Jacob Long said she had signed it. 

Among other things, the new law bans chokeholds or strangleholds; requires police to use de-escalation tactics; and mandates that officers intervene when other officers are using too much force.

Under the new law, police must make a report when a weapon is drawn and pointed at a civilian, whether or not shots were fired. 

The law mandates that police training include information about racial profiling, implicit bias and procedural justice. In addition, it requires annual comprehensive financial and management audits that would be released to the public. There would be a ban on “no-knock” warrants in municipal drug cases.

This bill codifies into ordinance many of the existing policies that the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department has been following for many, many years,” Long said.

“The chokehold ban has been policy for 13 years,” Long said. Training in de-escalation and implicit racial bias also have been requirements for years, he said.  

“So these aren’t ‘new’ rules. With the mayor’s signature, they’re just codified into a city ordinance now,” Long said. 

These policies will help set a new standard for our police department,” Board of Alderman President Lewis Reed said in a statement. “It protects good officers and creates repercussions for those who operate outside of the rules.”

Officers of the Saint Louis Metropolitan Police Department must use the highest degree of care in the application of any use of force,” Krewson, Public Safety Director Jimmie Edwards and Police Chief John Hayden said in a recent statement. 

We also recognize that in unique situations, exceptions to some restrictions may be necessary,” they said in the statement. “Thus, every use of deadly force will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis to determine the reasonableness of an officer’s actions.” 

Before voting to approve the bill on July 8, some aldermen spoke of the potential for additional changes.

“It’s unusual that the board is in agreement in its entirety,” said 20th Ward Alderwoman Cara Spencer, who is running for mayor. She told Reed that she appreciated his leadership on the bill. 

“Mr. President, I know we do not always agree on issues, but I know this is one that we had all put our names on, and that is an impressive and important step toward working together in the future,” Spencer said.

“I think that this is a really great incremental step toward where we need to be headed,” 15th Ward Alderwoman Megan Green said. 

Additional prohibitions might include bans on tear gas and pepper spray, Green said.

“We’re also recognizing that the conversations our community is having right now around policing are really centered around defunding and creating a different public safety system than the one that we have right now, one that aligns our public safety budget with health and human services and affordable housing and education rather than jails and incarceration,” Green said.

“We’ve had a ton of discussions of late about policing in our communities and how we would like to be policed as a society, and I think this gets to the heart of many of these issues,” 24th Ward Alderman Bret Narayan said. 

“I think that it’s necessary to have kind of common sense measures like this come into place in order to maintain and restore the respect in between the community and the police department, Narayan said. 

Jim Merkel

southsidemerkel@gmail.com 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 www.jimmerkelthewriter.com.

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