Once upon a time
in Missouri, back in the Civil War, our governor's heart belonged to the Confederacy. But St. Louis and its mighty police force leaned Union.
So the governor and his legislator pals in Jefferson City created a state board to control us. That system is still in place
a century and a half later.
Missourians could get rid of it if they vote yes on Prop A. It'll save everyone money. But a "yes" vote will likely cut some jobs, and will also explicitly sign away our ability to peer into the process by which police "police" themselves -- that is, see whether they punish cops who deserve it, or go light on their own.
Is it worth it? Yesterday, we got into the thick of it with John Chasnoff
, program director at the ACLU of Eastern Missouri
, who says: No! Vote no! Daily RFT
: Why are you against this thing? You backed local control when Rep. Jamilah Nasheed and Senator Joe Keaveny tried to get it done legislatively in Jeff City.
We backed it based on underlying principles of citizen input and transparency. If it doesn't bring that to the department, it's not doing what we fought for all these years.
We were told this new initiative would mirror Keaveny's bill, which reflected the broad consensus that everyone reached. So we were quite surprised when we got the actual ballot language. We were not brought to the table to discuss the changes.
We have two primary objections, of equal importance. They center around one particular paragraph. Our opinion is that this paragraph closes police disciplinary records to the public, and makes it impossible to have an effective civilian review board. First, you say it will close disciplinary records to the public. So what?
People tend to think of Missouri's Sunshine Law
as a technical sidelight of our government. But it's based on the fundamental principle that citizens should be able to oversee their government, and that's the only way to have a check and balance on government power.
That's why these records are so important, because they involve officers. We give officers tremendous power, and if they're using that power to subvert the law, that's a matter that requires citizen oversight.And you're saying that, right now, John Q. Public does have access to those records?
Yes. The Sunshine Law says disciplinary records are closed, and investigatory records are open. But what happens when a record is actually both? You have a "tie" in the Sunshine Law. That situation arises when you have a police officer accused of a crime while he's on-duty.
The Missouri Supreme Court ruled in the Guyer v. Kirkwood
case that the Sunshine Law has a presumption of openness. So if you have a tie, the tie is broken by the presumption of openness.Swell! Does it really work that way in practice?