"The Board has knowingly departed from the transparency that gives the community confidence that it credibly exercises unbiased oversight."
St. Louis: On Tuesday, December 22, the ACLU of Missouri filed suit against the City of St. Louis' Civilian Oversight Board on behalf of Phillip Weeks for the Board's failure to comply with the Missouri Sunshine Law. Although the Civilian Oversight Board's stated purpose is, "[t]o provide transparency and the accountability of the St. Louis City Police Department while ensuring community confidence," the Board has repeatedly failed to do so by hiding from the public critical information regarding its handling of police misconduct complaints.
The Civilian Oversight Board was created in 2015 in response to the historical distrust between the City of St. Louis' Police Department and members of the community they are tasked to serve. The Board, a public governmental agency consisting of seven civilians appointed by the mayor, is supposed to promote community confidence in the Department by acting as an independent body reviewing and investigating citizen complaints regarding misconduct by St. Louis police officers.
The Civilian Oversight Board only accepts complaints submitted by the public on the Joint Civilian Complaint Form. These forms require that the individual filing the complaint complete a section titled "Incident Report." This section includes the location, date, and time of the incident; the names and badge numbers of the SLMPD officers involved; any witness information; and a description of the incident.
On September 9, 2019, Phillip Weeks, who has long been an advocate for government transparency and police accountability, filed a Sunshine Law request for joint civilian complaint forms retained by the Civilian Oversight Board. After a delay of more than three months, he was provided the requested documents, but they were heavily redacted to hide information that the public has a right to see.
Tony Rothert, legal director of the ACLU of Missouri, stated: Community trust in the police department is essential to effective policing. The purpose of the Civilian Oversight Board is to restore the trust that has eroded over the decades that officers acted without meaningful, independent oversight and problem officers were dealt with in secret, if at all. Fortunately, the Sunshine Law demands the transparency we need to determine if the creation of the Board has made any difference or has become a new tool to protect the proverbial bad apples rather than the public.