(KSDK) -- After years of debate, a civilian police review board is now a reality in St. Louis. The still-to-be-named members will investigate citizen complaints of police abuse. The police board voted four-to-one to empower a civilian review board.
Colonel Michael Quinn was the only dissenting vote. But there were other dissenters who objected to the plan designed by Police Chief Joe Mokwa and Mayor Francis Slay.
Mayor Slay was nearly shouted down by protestors during an impromptu news conference. The plan calls for a seven-member board with all members appointed by the mayor.
That part is still being worked on.
The group will review complaints and make recommendations but it will not have subpoena power. Civil rights activists have long sought such a board. But they don't like this version. Neither does the Police Officers Association.
"I think it's a sham," says Jamala Rogers of the
Coalition Against Police Crimes & Repression. "I think it's a slap in the face of the democratic process that's been ongoing for the last three years."
Mayor Slay calls the establishment of the board a way to improve communication between police and the community.
Gary Wiegert of the St. Louis Police Officers Association says he doesn't think there is a police officer in St. Louis that supports civilian review boards, "I think it was just something that was done. We don't support this."
Alderman Terry Kennedy is working on a competing civilian review plan.
Virginia Thurman wishes a civilian review board had been around when her son Julius died five years ago.
One police officer was cleared of allegedly beating burglary suspect Julius Thurman, who later died. Officials say Thurman resisted arrest. His family believes a police beating killed him.
Virginia says a citizens' panel should be in place, "I believe they should, to see if they're doing right, because you know what? What happened to my son, it should have never happened to nobody's child."
Cases such as Thurman's could come before the newly created civilian review board
It will have seven members recommended by the mayor and several aldermen. They will serve four-year terms.
They can monitor and investigate complaints and make recommendations. But, as Mayor Francis Slay explains, there are things they can't do, "State law does not allow subpoena power, does not allow the civilian review board to compel witnesses or production of documents, it cannot hold hearings on specific complaints, nor can it compel the police department to produce evidence."
But civil rights activists say without more power, the board is a sham.
Jamala Rogers, with The Coalition Against Police Crimes & Repression, says, "We're asking anybody who is approached by the mayor to be appointed, we ask that they boycott that process and support the process that's going on that's been citizen driven."
The police officers association is split on the issue, says Gary Wiegert, "I think police review boards have an adverse affect on police work and I think it's bad for this police department. I think it's bad for the city."
Mayor Slay and Chief Mokwa promise that the board will be independent and diverse.
The board of aldermen could also approve a citizen's panel. A public hearing is scheduled for Thursday night.
But Mayor Slay says Wednesday's police board action would supercede any aldermanic plan.