HBO Vice: Racism In St. Louis Metropolitan Police Dept

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HBO Vice, the national weekly newsmagazine series, will tackle issues of racial bias within the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department (SLMPD) and other police departments, both internally and in the communities they serve, in an episode to air this Friday, March 24, at 7:30 p.m.

Details at http://www.hbo.com/vice/episodes

HBO Vice producers interviewed board members of the Ethical Society of Police (E.S.O.P.), an association of more than 200 St. Louis City law enforcement, commissioned and civilian employees, whose mission is to bridge communications between the community and the SLMPD. The E.S.O.P., founded by African-American police in 1968, is one of two police associations in St. Louis.

Last summer, E.S.O.P. issued a Comprehensive Evaluation of the SLMPD bit.ly/esop-comp-eval, which details racial biases and inequities by the police department both within the SLMPD and in the city of St. Louis.

For example, the city’s population is equally Caucasian and African-American (47 percent each, 2015 data), and 7 percent Asian, Hispanic, Latino and other races. Yet 75 percent of citizen arrests, 61 percent of drug abuse charges and 91 percent of weapon arrests were made of African-Americans.

Racial profiling of African-American drivers was evident in the E.S.O.P report, with 64 percent of vehicle stops, 72 percent of searches and 79 percent of vehicle arrests made of African-Americans. Yet contraband was more often found among Caucasians (18 percent) than African-Americans (14 percent) during those vehicle stops.

On February 15, 2016, African-Americans made up only a third of the SLMPD police force (34 percent) and fewer than a fourth of the commanders (24 percent). E.S.O.P also reported major disparities in promotions, transfers and discipline due to cronyism, race and sexism.

The SLMPD’s Force Investigative Unit, which handles officer involved shootings, was 100 percent white in February of 2016, more than two years after the police shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, a northern suburb of St. Louis.

The Special Operations Section was 80 percent white in February 2016. This section works closely with SLMPD Chief Sam Dotson in high crime areas and has had numerous officer involved shootings. The SLMPD Chief and Assistant Chief’s office also was 80 percent white.

Discipline practices within the SLMPD are highly inconsistent, the E.S.O.P report shows, with case after case of white officers facing violations, including accusations of murder, being given preferential treatment as compared to their African-American counterparts. No African-American officer has ever been accused of murder in the history of the department.

E.S.O.P. President Sgt. Heather Taylor, who is featured in the HBO Vice episode, was disciplined last November for speaking with the press about the department’s critical ShotSpotter gunfire detection system being down for three months because of an unpaid bill.

Her white colleagues in similar positions as president of the St. Louis Police Officers Association have frequently made statements to the press without discipline.

The Ethical Society of Police (E.S.O.P.) is an association of St. Louis police officers whose mission is to bridge communications between the community and the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department (SLMPD). It was founded in 1968 by African American police officers to address racial biases within the SLMPD.

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