ST. LOUIS -- After decades of "fleece force" policing in St. Louis County, a new proposal is attempting to bring some uniformity to the region's fragmented and inconsistent policing tactics.
St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger introduced legislation Wednesday that would require all 57 St. Louis County municipal police departments to meet uniform training standards.
Last year, the greater St. Louis area erupted in civil unrest after a white police officer fatally shot Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager. The unrest prompted the Justice Department and outside research groups to start probing policing practices in the region, and the results were not encouraging. The Police Executive Research Forum found last year that fragmentation makes the police departments “inefficient, undermines police operations, and makes it difficult to form effective law enforcement.” A majority of the 57 municipal police departments patrol an area of less than one square mile.
The legislation requires all departments to establish use-of-force policies and to make them available to the public. Other standards include background checks on all new hires and compliance with state laws on reporting traffic-stop information. The bill also stipulates that departments should be able to accept and bond-out prisoners 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and that officers must graduate from Peace Officer Standards and Training and undergo background checks.
Chuck Wexler of PERF said his group found that agencies "were not thoroughly checking the backgrounds of officers who were getting hired in the county. So just requiring a professional background investigations and utilization of a licensed clinical psychologist will help to weed out problematic officers."
Stenger said at a press conference Wednesday that his goal is to make sure all residents have equal access to consistent, high-quality law enforcement. St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar stood next to Stenger, showing his support for the bill.
“This has been a long time coming,” Belmar said at the event.
Normandy Police Chief Frank Mininni, whose department got certified by POST this month, says his department is already following the bill’s requirements. He said he wishes the legislation had been introduced sooner.
“I would’ve stood next to Stenger during the press conference. This is the stuff we’ve been talking about for [the] last six years,” Mininni said.
"It's long overdue," he added.
Because police departments employ different policies, Mininni says, his department has had issues patrolling in surrounding municipalities.
Stenger noted at the press conference that the legislation “is not aimed at any single department."
The legislation will be presented at the St. Louis County Council meeting on Oct. 27. If the bill passes, departments will have six months to comply with its requirements.