The St. Louis County Council is letting it be known that it is dead serious about police reform. So serious, in fact, that the Council voted Tuesday in favor of a resolution that gives the police department and police union an ultimatum: Either they provide greater public oversight or it’s a wrap on collective bargaining agreements.
The council’s 4-3 vote on the resolution came one day after the Ethical Society of Police, an organization that represents minorities in the department, issued an ultimatum to Chief Mary Barton to take immediate action to address racism in the department.
The efforts appeared to be in tandem, with the majority of the legislative body now appearing to put ESOP — a group that has been active in the county police for years but only formally recognized by the department this year — closer to an equal footing with Barton’s administration and the 1,000-member St. Louis County Police Association.
The resolution—of which the vote predictably fell along party lines with four Democrats voting in favor and three Republicans voting against—cites efforts from activist groups such as Forward Through Ferguson, the St. Louis Violence Prevention Commission and the NAACP to ensure that the relationships between police officers and citizens around the city are “rooted in mutual trust and respect,” and claims that police unions “have a history of using their influence to establish protections that have the impact of helping officers avoid accountability,” the Post-Dispatch reports.
The resolution also demands that officers’ disciplinary records be made public and that the names of officers involved in the use of deadly or excessive force be released unless there’s evidence that the releasing of names would put said officers’ safety at risk. It would also remove contract provisions that allow officers to get paid leave or paid desk-duty after being charged with a felony.
Finally, the resolution acknowledges that the council is “is empowered to reject the proposal” or to modify terms for entering into new contracts with the county’s police department. According to the Associated Press, the St. Louis County Police Department is seeking to renew a two-year contract with about 100 sergeants. The current contract expires on Dec. 31.
Truthfully, the resolution is likely to get plenty of push back. According to the Post-Dispatch, Joe Patterson, executive director of the police association, said in an interview that the police union doesn’t have a say on police discipline.
“While we are encouraged that the County Council is taking active steps in being involved with the collective bargaining process, we also look forward to an opportunity to help educate them on the process as a whole,” Patterson said. “The union has zero control over discipline in the police department. We do have due-process language but no control of discipline. That’s strictly and expressly a management right.”
Still, Rita Heard Days, one of the two Black council members who voted in favor of the resolution, insists that the move is necessary and important.
“This resolution makes a statement about how we want the interaction between our law enforcement, Black officers and citizens, and the community as a whole,” Days said. “We’ve had task forces. We’ve had strategic plans. We’ve had the consent decree. We’ve had all these reports, but we do not have action.”