Friday, September 25, 2015

Judge Orders Criminal to Stop Carrying Gun, Guess What? He Didn’t Listen

I began this blog, among other reasons, because I wanted to share with you stories which otherwise don’t get told.

It stands to reason that if something has the power to shock and upset a 20-year veteran of law enforcement, then surely it must be worth sharing with the public at large.

And let me tell you: once again, I am shocked. And once again, I am livid with anger.

The culprit this time, as it is so frequently, is the stark contradiction between a society that strives to rid itself of violence and a court system that allegedly reflects the values of that society, yet refuses to take action against violent criminals even when the opportunity to do so is placed squarely in its hands.

As I write this blog, I am looking at a report - perhaps I should use the word resume here - detailing the progressive history of a career criminal. His emerging pattern shows more than a tendency to commit crime, it shows a true commitment to lawlessness and a total disregard for the officers and judges who enforce and uphold our laws.

In other words, this criminal history belongs to exactly the sort of felon you'd want your police force to take off our streets. Exactly the sort of hardened offender who needs to be locked up for the safety of all, himself included.

And the police did their part, in exemplary fashion. On Wednesday, two of our officers arrested this man in connection with yet another serious gun crime - an armed robbery. In doing so, the officers risked their lives. They put themselves in harm's way to deliver this dangerous person into the arms of our justice system. It's only reasonable they should expect justice, or at least something vaguely like it, to follow as a result.

But how can they expect justice, when they have no reason to believe even the best arrest, of even the worst criminal, will lead to a meaningful sentence?

When we checked this man's criminal history, it turned out he was already on probation for Unlawful Use of a Weapon. That's right...the armed robbery he had just committed was made possible entirely by the misguided leniency in our courts.

When will judges realize, when will they understand, that the bad guys in our society neither respect that leniency nor fear their light sentences?

When will judges see that the failure to impose meaningful outcome in our courts is making the entire system toothless and helpless, like a sheep in wolf's clothing, growling empty threats against the very real threat of crime in our streets?

The final insult in this case, which you might find unbelievable, is that the judge who granted this offender probation for his previous gun crime thought simply ordering him ‘NOT TO POSSESS WEAPONS’ was enough.

Guess what? He didn't listen.

Guess what else? He's not the only one with a listening problem because judges haven't listened either, as we’ve continuously asked for an Armed Offender Docket.

Let me repeat what I said before, to overcome what must be your stunned disbelief: a sitting judge in an American court room looked down at a gun criminal and thought "perhaps if I just ask him to stop carrying that gun, and then let him walk out of here, he'll just decide to suddenly obey the law and kindly refrain from hurting or killing any innocent people".

SPOILER ALERT: it didn't work.

I have to ask the obvious question: if the penalty for committing crimes like armed robbery and unlawful use of weapon in our society is simply being told, "Okay now, please don't do that again", what are we going to do about even more serious crimes?

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Why We Do What We Do to Make the SLMPD Great

The Metropolitan Police Department is committed to conducting a fair and impartial investigation into all officer involved shootings. My unequivocal commitment to the citizens of this community is to have a process that is fair, transparent and based on facts and evidence of the law, not speculation.

Friday, the Circuit Attorney announced her intention to conduct an immediate and parallel criminal investigation into the shooting of Mansur Ball-Bey. As Police Commissioner, I support any thoughtful and independent review by interested law enforcement partners. I welcome the Circuit Attorney’s investigation. But I want to be clear, police officers in the City work in some of the most challenging areas and, sometimes, with little support. They do great work and have great skills, extensive training and well-created policies. They are among the best around the country and should receive recognition for their hard work and professionalism. The Circuit Attorney assures me that her comments were not a criticism of the men and women of this Department.

However, some have seized upon a subsequent exchange of statements to the media between the Circuit Attorney and the Police Officers Association to support an insinuation that the Circuit Attorney’s action reflects a problem with our policies, practices and training. Just as I would refute any unfair criticism of Department members, I must refute an unfair challenge to our policies.

To ensure that this Department uses best practices, the Force Investigative Unit (FIU) was created in August 2014. The FIU’s primary responsibility is to investigate all officer involved shootings in the City of St. Louis. The unit was created from a very successful model used by the Los Angeles Police Department. The policies of the FIU were co-written and reviewed by this Department, Professor David Klinger of the University of Missouri-St. Louis and members of the St. Louis Circuit Attorney’s Office. The agreed-upon policies include investigative steps and specific procedures for case transfer to the Circuit Attorney’s Office.

The Department has made the FIU a priority and has invested tens of thousands of dollars to ensure the unit has the best training and equipment available for each investigation and includes highly qualified investigators.

From the unit’s origins, it was agreed that at the conclusion of an investigation conducted by the FIU, the investigative findings are to be referred to the Circuit Attorney’s Office for an independent review. This process ensures a comprehensive and thorough review of each case.

So far, the FIU has completed two investigations into officer involved shootings. The first occurred in the 8700 block of Riverview and resulted in the death of Kajieme Powell on August 19, 2014.  In that case detectives assigned to the FIU began their investigation immediately. Upon completion of their work, the case was handed over to the Circuit Attorney’s Office 182 days later on February 17, 2015. The Circuit Attorney’s Office is currently still investigating that case and is 187 days into their review.

The second case occurred on October 8, 2014, in the 4100 block of Shaw and resulted in the death of Vonderrit Meyers. In that case, the FIU began their investigation immediately. FIU turned the case over to the Circuit Attorney’s Office 58 days later on December 5, 2014. The Circuit Attorney’s Office then conducted their review and released their findings 164 days later on May 18, 2015, and determined there was no criminal wrongdoing on the part of the officer involved.

Given the pace of the Circuit Attorney’s work, a head-start on this case, which has the community’s attention, makes some sense.

However, the Circuit Attorney’s request that the newly-created Civilian Oversight Board (COB) ask for a review of all Police Department policies and procedures by the Office of the Missouri Attorney General makes less sense. That may happen, but the COB, created as an independent reviewer, has not yet been empanelled to even consider whether it wishes to yield the mission the ordinance has given it.

This request creates a spectre that is simply not true. The Department’s policies are consistent with best practices set forth by the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) and National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives (NOBLE).

The Department works under the stringent and demanding processes that the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA) provides and has maintained high standards for commissioned and civilian members of the Department since 2007.

In August 2013, the Department became one of only 15 agencies (from a pool of more than 1,000 departments from across the country) to receive the TRI-ARC award. This is given to police departments that have gained accreditation in three areas: law enforcement operations, public safety communications, and public safety training. Very few agencies receive this award and it came only after much hard work and commitment from a dedicated department and compliance with over 2,000 standards and action steps in our comprehensive policies.

CALEA is the gold standard in the law enforcement field and ensures that our policies are up-to-date, progressive and among the best in the country. The men and women who serve the City as officers of the Metropolitan Police Department have met the highest standards of our profession, I am disappointed that this was not mentioned.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Does St. Louis need an Armed Offender Docket?

St. Louis, like many cities around the country, is experiencing an increase in crime and acts of violence, especially gun violence. The number of guns that are used in crimes and the number of guns that are stolen is up.

When we look for ways to combat these increases, the suggestion of an Armed Offender Docket, a dedicated path through the City’s Circuit Court system to specific courtrooms, continually comes up. It’s been suggested by former Police Chief Dan Isom, by Mayor Francis Slay, by Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce and by professors from the University of Missouri - St. Louis as a way to better monitor outcomes for individuals arrested for “lesser” charges like Unlawful Use of a Weapon.

Police officers know far too well from experience that these gun crimes are sometimes precursors to more serious crimes. An Armed Offender Docket would allow closer monitoring of outcomes, more accountability, and ultimately, safer neighborhoods.

The fact is that the administration of justice has consequences, some of which are avoidable. Too often, the decisions made by some judges, not all but some, impact public safety in such a terrible way.

Almost every day, reports come across my desk about people who have been arrested while serving probation. I once thought being under the microscope of probation would encourage good behavior. Unfortunately, that is not always, or even often, the case.

This week, Rashad Edwards’ case made that point forcefully.

As a 17-year old, Edwards was arrested for Unlawful Use of a Weapon. His case slowly moved through the Circuit Court system and in April 2012 (over a year-and-a-half after his arrest) and just shy of his 19th birthday, he was sentenced to two years of probation along with guidance from the court to get a GED and continue to work, perhaps part-time due to school.

In February 2014, nearly two years after being sentenced, his probation was extended until April 2017, until almost his 24th birthday. The comments say, “… is hereby extended for a period of 3 years or until 4/11/2017 the extension would allowed (sic) Edwards to successfully complete the conditions of his supervision. So ordered: Judge Margaret Neill.”

Here is the unfortunate reality: Rashad Edwards is not going to get a GED, work or successfully complete his seven years of probation. On July 2, 2015, he was charged with Murder 1st Degree, the most serious crime.

What started in 2010 as a 17-year old arrested for UUW ended in 2015 with an individual almost 22-years old charged with Murder. It ended with an individual who’d been in the criminal justice system on probation since 2012 being charged with murder. It ended with a family losing a loved one to a crime committed by a person who had never faced life-changing consequences.

I am a pragmatist. I know that some judges have difficulty sending young offenders to prison. I don’t envy their positions, but I also know that some judges live in anonymity behind the bench and never see the true outcomes of their decisions. The reality is that judges are as responsible for public safety as the police officers who ride in our neighborhoods.

While no system is perfect, and while there are outstanding judges just like there are outstanding police officers, there is a fix for this one. A man might still be alive if Rashad Edwards hadn’t drawn a judge who put him on probation.

I can’t think of a more compelling case to have an Armed Offender Docket in the City of St. Louis.

(Information about his case can be found at

Friday, May 22, 2015

29th Annual Police Memorial Breakfast: My Remarks

Good morning. Thank you all for joining us here today for the 29th Annual Police Memorial Breakfast, one of our City’s most honored traditions.

This day would not be possible without the generous support of the St. Louis Police Foundation led by their President Doug Albrecht and the continued support for 3 years now of Jeanne and Rex Sinquefield. Thank you Doug, thank you Jeanne and thank you Rex.

On this day, our service as police officers binds us together across all imaginable boundaries – it binds the present with the past, the living with the dead, the yet unknown with the never-to-be-forgotten.

As every member of the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department and every officer of every agency here today can attest, law enforcement has come together over this past year, rising to every occasion, meeting and exceeding every expectation and filling all those who support law enforcement with pride, admiration and respect.

Today, as we gather to remember the ones who are not here with us, the ones we've lost, it is not a time for sorrow. Today is a time for gratitude, remembrance and honor.

The names we think about today do not live only in our tears; they live in a million moments, fondly recalled within the collective memory of our police family. One thing I know about police families, we never forget.

On this issue, General George S. Patton gave us guidance by saying, “It is foolish and wrong to mourn the men who died. Rather, we should thank God that such men lived.”

Patton was right.

164 times we have come together to honor such men. 164 times is too many. Even one is too many. But in the profession we all choose, reality weighs very heavy.

The lives we remember here today are tragic. But they are also heroic, exemplary and inspiring.

For though all men must die, only the greatest lead lives of service.

Every one of the officers we remember this morning led a life of service, and they paid the ultimate price for it, so that others, so that we, could live in peace and in safety.

As Margaret Mead said, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."

Let us be all thankful that these 164 men led lives of service committed to their chosen profession.

Thank you for being here today. God bless you and God bless our police officers.

Memorial Breakfast Video Production donated by: Illustrated Man, Inc.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Recruit Class 2014-02 Graduation: My Remarks

Every so often, I'll come across something that makes me remember why I started this blog: to share the kind of stories you won't hear anywhere else.

Occasionally, these stories also make me remember why I love my job and what I hope to accomplish in it. This is definitely such a time. But sadly, these aren’t the stories that you will see leading the nightly news. They should be.

Earlier this month, I received a letter from one of our citizens who is nearly 90 years of age. The writing itself was simple, clear and elegant, reflecting the kind of skill people used to have in the days before Twitter.

The story it told was likewise straightforward and un-embellished. A citizen wakes up, not from any noise or disturbance, but simply from restlessness. Outside are four unnoticed police officers, making an uneventful arrest. The citizen takes a moment to watch this scene and reflect on what it means. Instead of something dull or common, she sees something remarkable. Four people risking their lives to protect a neighborhood that doesn't know they're there, and taking great care to do it quietly, at that. 

I think her letter says it better than I ever could…

I spend a lot of time and effort trying to express my thoughts about community policing, more lately than ever before. And yet, nothing I say captures the essence of that philosophy as well as this letter.  

The moment I read it, I thought, "This is how I want people to see the Police Department and this is how I want the Police Department to see the people."

I realize we're not there yet, and that it will take work to close the distance. But it's a goal worth working for and I can't imagine a successful future without it.

Here's hoping that the future brings us closer to getting what we all want: a quieter world, a safer world, a more peaceful world and a world where the only things that wake us up in the middle of the night are young children and old age.

I want to leave our new young police officers with this thought: What you are about to do, the career you have chosen, you do it not for the accolades or the notoriety. You do this because you are true to your heart.

May God watch over you every day.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

2015 Leadership Symposium

The police department is an organization with many traditions. Some are of distant origin, stretching back continuously for over 100 years. Others are more recent.

One of our newest traditions is the Leadership Symposium, a periodic gathering of all the agency's supervisors and commanders. These are typically held at least once a year, with an agenda designed to promote discussion of pressing issues and current events.

In years past, we've talked about things like vehicle accidents, crime lab procedures, property storage, performance appraisals and other technical matters.

This meeting, for obvious reasons, was different. Our Symposium this year confronted a much more fundamental set of questions - questions about the state of law enforcement as a profession, and the relationship between the police and the people.

The conversation started with a review of the legal guidance being provided to local law enforcement in light of recent events. Here we talked about some of the reports and recommendations that the Department of Justice has provided to guide the future development of best practices in policing. We also heard from attorneys at both the circuit and federal level, to gain the benefit of their expertise on topics like exculpatory evidence and constitutional rights.

Next we turned our attention to one of the most important questions in police work today: how we are changing the way we govern and monitor law enforcement's use of force, especially officer-involved shootings. Leading this session was the supervisor of our new Force Investigation Unit, who described a new and meticulously designed set of procedures we have recently started using to examine critical incidents.

We also talked about another new unit, the Office of Community Engagement and Organizational Development. This, I'm proud to say, is by far most comprehensive outreach effort in the department's long history, including ambitious plans for youth programs, community level training, reconciliation initiatives, management of internal culture change, and progressive re-training of officers, among many others.

Our final segment dealt with one of the biggest challenges we face as these efforts move forward: the complicated relationship between law enforcement and the black community. The framework for this nation-wide discussion was established, with admirable fairness and clarity, by FBI Director James Comey in his excellent speech at Georgetown University earlier this year.

Listening to Comey's speech helped us all remember both the historic basis of the tensions that remain so powerful today, and the way that legacy influences various different perceptions of current events. It also asked us to do something difficult: to search our own hearts for hidden bias and then do the strenuous work required to overcome it.

Why did we have this conversation? Why did we spend the warmest Saturday of 2015 indoors, learning about policy and talking about work?

We did it because we have to, because it's the right thing, and because our future - as police officers and as people - demands that we have this conversation, and live by its lessons.

And for anyone who's interested in knowing more about what we discussed today, here's a link to the FBI's Directors remarks. Listen for yourself.

Monday, March 2, 2015

They Said It Couldn’t Happen. They Were Wrong!

There are very few times where I believe the saying "I told you so" is appropriate, but last Friday may have been exactly one of those times.

You see, last Friday in St. Louis, St. Louis Circuit Court Judge Robert Dierker dismissed a case against Raymond Robinson who had been arrested by police officers for being a felon in possession of a firearm.

The facts of the case were not in dispute.

Yes: a convicted felon, and

Yes: in possession of a firearm. 

Slam dunk, right?  Well, not anymore.  When legislators in Jefferson City proposed – and voters approved -- a change to our State's Constitution with Amendment 5, they altered the balance between safety and justice by requiring that “strict scrutiny,” which is the most rigorous form of judicial review, be applied to gun cases.

The state senator who co-sponsored Amendment 5 is an attorney. He has said he did not intend it to allow felons to be in possession of firearms. He is now running for attorney general.

I'm not an attorney, but it was very clear to me at the time that the people we arrest, the criminals who prey on the public, would use any means they could to subvert the system and not face the consequences for their actions. I said so.

Missouri’s Amendment 5 does very little to further the rights of law-abiding, citizens, who have ultimate protection under the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution. 

What Missouri’s Amendment 5 does do is give criminals the cover to have firearms, and it makes it harder to hold them accountable for their actions. It makes the jobs of police officers more dangerous and the jobs of prosecutors more difficult.

This is the primary reason Rebecca Morgan from Moms Demand Action and I are still in court challenging the ballot language of Amendment 5.  We could see this day coming, in spite of the Amendment's supporters, who said it would never be used to set criminals free.

Legislators in Jefferson City don't always see the disparate impact of their decisions.  I was in Jefferson City at the end of the last legislative session, when a representative said to me "I'm up for re-election in [not St. Louis or Kansas City].  I have to have a gun bill.”

Please note that my problem is not with Judge Dierker. He did his job. He interpreted the available law and applied it to the case before him.  In my estimation, the problem is the law was always more of a political move than good policy. Misleading and incomplete ballot language simply disguised that fact.  I told them so.

There is an opportunity for the Supreme Court to resolve this immediately by striking Amendment 5. Otherwise, we could see more and more challenges to common sense laws. 

I will keep you posted on our legal challenge.