CLAYTON — The St. Louis County Board of Police Commissioners on Tuesday signed an agreement recognizing the Ethical Society of Police, an organization formed in 1972 to represent minority police officers an fight race-based discrimination.
County Executive Sam Page signed the memorandum with the group last week.
The group, which has operated in the city police department for years, has been long waiting for county approval. Earlier this month, the group was denied a seat on a “chief’s committee” because it was not a recognized labor group. Chief Mary Barton said then that the group’s “participation in the committee may then lead to other groups wanting a seat.”
Barton’s statements to members of the County Council earlier this month that she did not believe systemic racism existed in the department prompted two council members to question whether she could lead. And it precipitated the long-awaited recognition of the Ethical Society.
The five-member police board signed the agreement in a special meeting on Tuesday. The public was excluded for all but a few moments of about an hourlong meeting because the board said it had to discuss competitive bids and confidential legal matters. The Post-Dispatch objected to the closed meeting.
After signing the agreement on Tuesday, Board chairman William “Ray” Price Jr. read a prepared statement that the board “recognizes the harm and pain” from racism in many institutions “including this department.” And he said the department would work to honor diversity and inclusiveness.
Earlier this month, Price said the Center for Policing Equity, a research center based at the University of California-Los Angeles, had agreed to work with the department at no cost.
The police board had also planned to discuss that agreement on Tuesday, but it was unclear whether the topic came up. Price said in an interview on Tuesday that the group had decided last week not to work with the county because it turned out it had to hire people and could not work for free. He said the police board planned to issue a request for proposals to find another consulting group.
The policing equity group did not respond to a request for comment on Tuesday.
St. Louis County Executive Sam Page announced on Monday the department would be working with other consultants, two nationally-known former police chiefs, who will review the department’s practices and policies in an initiative funded by private businesses that appeared to be independent of the police board.
Price said Tuesday the first consulting group’s decision to back out had nothing to do with Page’s announcement. But he said it was possible they could perform some of the work that the equity group had originally planned to.
“We’re at such a preliminary stage, we don’t think anyone knows what’s been imposed on us,” he said. But he said he was “happy to work with whomever will help us.”
Page’s staff has not disclosed the cost of the new review or who is paying the bill, referring those questions to the Regional Business Council and Civic Progress, an organization of top executives from the region’s largest private sector employees. A representative of the Regional Business Council did not return a message from a reporter on Tuesday.
One police commissioner, Dr. LJ Punch, said Monday they were “enraged” about the review announced by Page and had “zero input” in the plan to bring in the retired chiefs. But another commissioner, Thomasina Hassler, told her colleagues on Tuesday that she was “interested in collaborating with such organizations.”