If you have a complaint about police in St. Louis, where can you go?
Well, there's the police. But in St. Louis there's an alternative: the Civilian Oversight Board(COB).
“We have a community hurting right now," said Nicolle Barton, executive director of the board. "We have citizens who are afraid of police."
As for the COB: "We're separate, independent, and transparent,” she said.
The COB was created to improve trust between the public and the police, after the Michael Brown case.
But Barton admits there are hurdles.
For example, any complaints the COB receives get turned over to city police's internal affairs.
“Internal affairs does the investigation initially and then they turn the file over to us,” said Barton.
That’s right, the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department investigates itself.
For a while, the only investigatory outcomes the board got to see were when the police found that the officer was innocent of any wrongdoing. But the complaints where the officer might be in the wrong were not given to the board.
In fact, the police union initiated restraining orders to stop the board from viewing the files.
As a result:
Maria Hallas, 5 On Your Side: “Have you seen any case where the officer was found to be engaged in inappropriate behavior?”
Nicolle Barton, COB: “Those cases were held up in the court proceedings.”
Recently, the police began sharing those case files of officer violations with the COB, yet the COB has another obstacle to doing it's job: the board has no subpoena power because of heavy opposition from the police union.
Maria Hallas: “Is it frustrating for you to know you're in this role and to watch people who have such outcry and yet you can't really look at the cases that are causing it and can't assess it?
Nicolle Barton, COB executive director: “Yes, it is frustrating because I want to help heal our community. I want to help.”
Alderman John Collins-Muhammad has protested about police treatment and distrust. He said the oversight board is too weak to operate effectively.
“We have to put pressure on the police department to actually hand over information to the COB,” said Collins-Muhammad.
Efforts are underway by the Missouri Black Caucus to draft bills that expand the Board’s authority.
If you want to file a complaint with the Civilian Oversight Board, click here.