City County Equity Reform: Political Representation, Criminal Justice

    By Julie Tristan

    “Any talk of equity in governmental reform must start with these basic functions – that’s why we are starting this conversation with criminal justice and political representation,” said Dr. Wally Siewert, FOCUS St. Louis’ director of civic engagement and the evening’s moderator.

    It was a night dedicated to discussing racial equity. In the three previous the Missouri Historical Society and FOCUS St. Louis hosted they covered policing, immigration and the view of prosecution.

    The evening started by defining “racial equity” and a definition was put front and center on a large screen on stage:

    “RA-CIAL EQ-UI-TY (noun): A state in which statistical outcomes cannot be predicted by race”

    Cristina Garmendia, the associate director of community engagement and applied learning for the Race and Opportunity Lab presented a portion her “Equity Indicators 2018 Baseline Report” to the packed house in Lee’s Hall at the Missouri History Museum.

    “In 2016, which is the last time the police department released an annual report, there were 1,187 officers of which 763 where white & 385 were black. What this translates to in terms of racial disparities is that white residents are more than twice as likely to be represented in the police force,” Garmendia said.

    “In 2017, we received applications from 394 white applicants & 366 black applicants. White residents are only 15% more likely to submit job applications to the police department then black residents. … A third of black trainees resign or are dismissed compared to only 10% of white applicants,” she continued. That drew a gasp from the audience.

    After Garmendia’s presentation which included more facts on racial disparities in the police department you can find in the online report, Siewert called up the panel comprised of:

    • Wesley Bell, Prosecuting Attorney, St. Louis County
    • Andrea Benjamin, Ph.D.Assistant Professor of Political Science, University of Missouri-Columbia
    • Hazel Erby, Director of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion, St. Louis County & Former Democratic Committeewoman for University Township
    • Captain Perri Johnson, Commander – Sixth District, St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department

    Siewert began by asking the panel what they think are the most important issues regarding city/county governmental reform.

    “Somehow we have to make sure that there’s a climate within the police department that says everybody deserves respect” Hazel Erby responded.

    Prosecuting Attorney for St. Louis County Wesley Bell gave some ideas about how we get there.

    “I’m a big advocate of community policing, I’m a big advocate of looking at how we evaluate officers because if the promotion is based on the number of arrests and the number of tickets, maybe we need to look at evaluating them on the number of people they know in the hood, and I think that’s when we start having that type of engagement and building that trust we want to see in our communities,” said Bell.

    Many answers received applause, especially one from Captain Perri Johnson when he said that he asks his officers to get out of the car, spend time in the community, and get to know the people they are protecting. Johnson said he believes community policing means being there in uniform and out of uniform to help build relationships.

    “This badge has a heartbeat,” Captain Johnson said.

    FOCUS will be following up this event with the region’s first ever Racial Equity Summit on October 11th, 2019. The event will be held in partnership with Forward Through Ferguson, the Clark-Fox Policy Institutes at Washington University in St. Louis, the St. Louis Promise Zone and the United Way of Greater St. Louis.