A St. Louis lawmaker wants to change the way city police officers interact with protesters, including how and when officers can use chemicals like pepper spray. It's a new development following weeks of protests stemming from a not-guilty ruling in the murder trial of former St. Louis police officer Jason Stockley.
Board Bill 134, introduced Friday morning by 15th Ward Alderwoman Megan E. Green, would give non-violent protesters more leeway during demonstrations. If passed, it would also require officers to exercise greater restraint and more precision when arresting protesters.
Police would have to give a warning before using chemicals, give instructions on how to leave the area and would only be allowed to use chemicals on individuals causing or attempting to cause serious injury to another person.
“Regardless of where you stand on the protests, I think we can all agree that if you are simply out exercising your first amendment rights and not doing anything that is putting other people at harm then you should not be indiscriminately tear-gassed,” said Green.
The bill would also take away officers' ability to order an entire protest to disperse. Instead, officers must individually handle people committing illegal acts.
Under the bill, those arrested during protests but not charged with a crime would have to be processed and released from jail “promptly.” A supervisor would be required to document and explain any cases in which someone determined to be eligible for immediate release was held for more than four hours.
23rd Ward Alderman Joe Vaccaro isn’t sold on the bill.
“I look at it as a very vague bill,” said Vaccaro. “I think that when you do something like this and you keep things vague it's going to actually end up being more controversial.”
Vaccaro points to a portion of the bill he calls contradictory.
“It says you can actually protest in the street and at the same time you have to allow people to use the street. well, I don't know how that happens.”
Vaccaro believes any policy change affecting the police department should involve police input.
Five on Your Side reached out to the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department for comment. We were told vis email Acting-Chief O’Toole was unavailable.
While Board Bill 134 was introduced Friday, it was not assigned to a committee for further discussion. The Aldermanic Clerk says assignment will likely happen at the Board’s next full meeting.