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‘A slap in the face.’ ‘Not true.’ ‘Symbolic gesture.’ Consultants’ reports on local police get some pushback

‘A slap in the face.’ ‘Not true.’ ‘Symbolic gesture.’ Consultants’ reports on local police get some pushback

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ST. LOUIS — Representatives of rank-and-file police officers in both the city and county were sharply critical Tuesday of reports by outside consultants who examined local law enforcement agencies and recommended big changes.

Heather Taylor, a recently retired city police sergeant and current spokesperson for the Ethical Society of Police, said the review by Teneo consultants of the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department — the city’s department — ignored recent high-profile criminal cases and lawsuits accusing some officers of involuntary manslaughter, assault, bribery and racial discrimination.

And, unlike a parallel study of the St. Louis County Police Department, relatively little mention was made of a racial divide in the city’s police force, Taylor said.

“This report was a slap in our face,” said Taylor, whose organization represents minority officers in the city and county. Officers, she said, were “livid that they glossed over the problems in the city. To not address systemic racism and to not address the culture of corruption, it was so alarming.”

A union official who represents county officers also was sharply critical.

Joe Patterson, president of the St. Louis County Police Officers Association, slammed Teneo’s county report for citing the union’s collective bargaining agreement as an impediment to the chief’s ability to revise outdated policies.

The union can contest policy decisions by the chief and subject them to negotiations, Patterson said, but “the matter of us being an obstruction to the chief, it’s just totally not true.” The agreement, he said, allows the union to “slow down some changes and make sure the changes are done with due process.”

But members of the St. Louis County Council, during a Tuesday committee meeting, generally praised the report on the county department, pledging to continue discussions of its detailed findings next month. Several, however, conceded they hadn’t had time to read the report, which was released around noon on Monday.

St. Louis County Lt. Col. Troy Doyle, who County Executive Sam Page appointed as the county’s liaison to the Teneo consultants, on Monday said people needed time to read the 43-page report before they could react.

“Requesting actionable input from the public in less than 24 hours from the release of an intensive report is unreasonable,” Doyle said in a tweet.

“Seems more like a symbolic gesture,” Doyle said. “Real constructive conversations need to take place after the holidays.”

Both reviews, announced over the summer amid rising concern about police practices and violent crime, broadly criticized a lack of cooperation and communication between the city and the county departments, as well as a lack of an overarching crime-fighting strategy within both agencies.

Funding for the reviews came primarily from Clayton-based Centene Corp., whose chief executive has cited the region’s crime as an impediment to business recruitment and expansion.

St. Louis

Jeff Roorda, spokesman for the St. Louis Police Officers Association, said the union hadn’t reviewed Teneo’s city report in detail Tuesday and declined to comment until the association releases a written response.

“We haven’t really had a chance to dive into the report but we’re anxious to read it and we intend on putting out a written response to the findings of the report in the very near future,” he said.

The report on the city’s police force mentions the added pressure and scrutiny police face when responding to protests, and criticized the department for failing to maintain good employee records, leading to “a lack of oversight around officers who are subjects of repeated complaints from community members.”

But it didn’t mention publicized incidents of misconduct by officers, including federal inquiries into the police kettling of protesters after the Jason Stockley verdict, off-duty Black officers beaten and shot by on-duty white colleagues, officers fired for discriminatory social media posts, and the Russian roulette-style killing of Officer Katlyn Alix, who was shot to death in 2019 while off duty and at the home of an on-duty officer, Nathaniel Hendren.

Taylor said she and other ESOP members raised the issues in interviews with consultants. Taylor also questioned the timing of the release of the reports at a time when most government bodies have adjourned for the end of the year.

“It’s as if they (Teneo) didn’t know it was national news,” Taylor said. “It was a report intentionally done that way so they could avoid addressing that there are systemic problems.”

However, Taylor said the Teneo report was “spot on” in indicting St. Louis Police’s internal organizational structure and poor communications. It also highlighted challenges the agency faces including few resources, external economic or political factors contributing to crime, and low morale after the shooting of several officers in the line of duty this year, including the killing of Officer Tamarris Bohannon.

Charles Ramsey, a former Philadelphia police commissioner and Washington, D.C. police chief who aided Teneo consultants in analyzing the city’s police department, said Monday that race largely only came up when officers were interviewed about assignments and promotions.

“Of course, race is an issue everywhere,” Ramsey said when asked by a reporter during a press briefing Monday. But he said “it didn’t come up as much as I thought it would come up.”

Officers also cited the role that seniority plays in such decisions as spelled out in the department’s collective bargaining agreement with the union, he said. That, he said, “puts minorities and women at a disadvantage in and of itself” when promotions and assignments to special units are decided.

St. Louis County

Patterson, with the county police union, said he was still reviewing the Teneo report in detail but had found inaccuracies, especially its condemnation of the union’s collective bargaining agreement as an obstacle to change.

The goal of the collective bargaining agreement, he said, “is to even the playing field between officers and their commanders and it sets forth clear rights and responsibilities of all members of the department.”

Asked about the report’s findings of a “racial divide” within the department, Patterson said meetings between the police union, ESOP and police supervisors “are already taking place and we’ve enjoyed our time working with ESOP on matters of racial equity,” he said.

Patterson said the department does have policies that “are a bit stale,” but that they include essential best practices. He also said the county should work more with the city to police the border.

“Criminals don’t respect an invisible border,” he said.

“We believe the St. Louis County department could do a better job of disseminating a crime plan,” he said, “so that the rank-and-file can feel more invested in creating solutions.”

County Council members on Tuesday described the report as a granular look at issues that stretch back decades. And they promised to put weight behind the report to lead to changes.

“My concern,” said Councilwoman Rita Heard Days, D-1st District, “is what is the next step?”

Councilman Tim Fitch, who served as county police chief from 2009 to 2014, said the report included “low-hanging fruit” that could be fixed quickly, he said, but argued other issues were costly and required giving police more budgetary support.

There isn’t a police department in the country that can meet all the report’s recommendations, said Fitch, R-3rd District.

“Understand that when you read this report,” Fitch said, “this is in a perfect world.”

Fitch bristled several times when council members implied that issues the report highlighted were left unaddressed during his watch as chief. He noted that some of the practices recommended by the consultants, such as communicating regularly with the city’s police chief and meeting with community groups, happened when he was chief.

“To say that we never had a centralized countywide crimefighting strategy is not accurate,” he said. “Maybe in the recent past that is true,” he said.

Mark Schlinkmann of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.

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Reporter covering breaking news and crime by night. Born in Algeria but grew up in St. Louis. Previously reported for The Associated Press in Jackson, Mississippi and at the Wichita Eagle in Wichita, Kansas.

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