ST. LOUIS – A group of St. Louis police officers remain on the job despite being put on an “exclusion list” by Circuit Attorney Kimberly M. Gardner. The work they are being paid for, but cannot fully do according to their own union, is costing the city in excess of $5 million a year.
Gardner has placed 43 people on a list of officers prohibited from presenting cases to her office. The average St. Louis police officer costs the city more than $125,000 a year in salary and benefits, according to city Budget Director Paul Payne.
The actual cost of each officer may vary, but using the average of $125,000, those officers cost about $5.37 million.
Some say the exclusions won’t cost anything, because the officers can do other things. But a police association official said this would cost the public because the officers wouldn’t be able to seek justice for victims.
Gardner recently announced that she had placed 22 police officers on her “exclusion list” because of racist social media posts of current and retired city police officers. Those posts were recently publicized by the Plain View Project.
The project examined Facebook posts from 2,900 current and 600 former officers in the eight police departments for violent, bigoted or racist content. The database includes 416 Facebook posts by current or former St. Louis officers.
The posts demeaned African-Americans, Muslims and Hispanics and glorified police violence against protesters.
Susan Ryan, a spokeswoman for Gardner, said a total of 43 active officers were on the “exclusion list.” That includes 21 officers Gardner placed on that list before the news broke of the social media posts for reasons including questionable honesty in police reports or testimony, intimidation of prosecutors and failure to participate in prosecution of cases.
“I will not jeopardize the integrity of the criminal justice system by allowing the concerning actions of a small number of police officers to taint the good work of the credible and hardworking officers,” Gardner wrote in February.
Ryan said the prohibition didn’t keep officers from doing their jobs.
“There’s all sorts of things that police officers can do,” she said.
But Jeff Roorda, business manager for the St. Louis Police Officers Association, said the 43 officers weren’t completely doing their jobs.
“Think about the costs to the citizens in terms of seeking justice. That’s where the real cost comes in,” Roorda said.
The excluded officers can do other things, such as ride with officers who file the warrants, Roorda said. But there’s no way for others to do what they’re not doing, he said.
“We’re 147 officers down on top of this,” Roorda said. He referred to the fact that the police department isn’t meeting its optimum staffing level, primarily because there aren’t sufficient applicants for openings.
A spokesman for the city police skirted the issue.
“The Department is committed to the investigation we initiated immediately following the publishing of the Plain View Project’s report, through the Internal Affairs Division,” Sgt. Keith Barrett said in an email. “We will reserve any comment regarding disciplinary action taken until the completion of the investigation of which all involved officers have been notified.”
The head of the Board of Aldermen committee that handles the budget said the officers’ loss of their ability to file warrants didn’t matter monetarily.
“I don’t know what effect that would have on the budget,” said 10th Ward Alderman Joseph Vollmer, chair of the Board of Aldermen’s Ways and Means Committee. “They’re still working. They’re still being paid. It’s just that she (Gardner) is not going to recognize them if they arrest someone.”
“I understand most of them are still doing office duty or still being assigned, but not just street duty,” Vollmer said.
Twenty-third Ward Alderman Joseph Vaccaro, chairman of the Board of Aldermen’s Public Safety Committee, had a different worry.
“What I’m really concerned about is how many cases are going to be affected, how many people are going to come back that were being held for rape, that are being held for murder, just to say they were being unjustly convicted,” Vaccaro said.
In a news release announcing the exclusion of the 22 officers in connection with the social media posts, Gardner said police integrity was at the core of the community’s confidence in the criminal justice system.
Seven of the 22 officers with serious social media posts were permanently removed from the circuit attorney’s warrant office. These officers may not present themselves or cases to the circuit attorney’s office. Cases currently under review, in which they are an essential witness, will be refused, the circuit attorney’s news release said.
The circuit attorney’s office will not sign search warrants in which those officers are involved.
The office will review the 15 other officers and determine how they could get back their ability to present cases.
In a letter to Public Safety Director Jimmie Edwards and police Chief John Hayden, Gardner said many of the social media posts were shocking and beneath the dignity of a person with such a powerful position. That especially includes comments that advocate violence, she said.
Although labor agreements may limit what city police can do, the circuit attorney’s office has no such limitations, Gardner said.