New group formed to boost cooperation among criminal justice agencies

New group formed to boost cooperation among criminal justice agencies

CITY HALL – City officials hope a newly formed Criminal Justice Coordinating Council will smooth cooperation among agencies including the city police, the courts and the circuit attorney’s office.  Ultimately, they say, it will ease the path toward justice reform. 

The Board of Aldermen voted 26-0 on July 12 to pass a bill establishing the council. Last week, Mayor Lyda Krewson told reporters at a news conference in her office that the group would bring together all of the criminal justice agencies in a way that had never been done before. 

Circuit Judge Michael K. Mullen, the group’s chair, said at the news conference on July 17 that the council would bring big differences in criminal justice.

“The circuit attorney’s office, the public defender’s office, the jail, the sheriff’s office, the courts themselves, have sort of been functioning in their own islands,” Mullen said. “The Criminal Justice Coordinating Council gives them a forum to come together to share information that they gained in their own departments with other departments.”

One example Mullen mentioned of the value of sharing information was making sure that the state Highway Patrol knows when a warrant is issued for a violent offender. Encountering such an offender could endanger a police officer, he said. Notification wasn’t always being done.

Sharing information could also decrease the chances a person might remain in jail after his or her case is closed, Mullen said.

Krewson said that most of the criminal justice agencies and departments didn’t fall under the mayor’s authority.

“The mayor’s office does not say who is housed and does not say who is issued bail and does not say how much the bail is, but what we can do is bring all the agencies and departments together,” she said.

Those involved include the city, the city police, the sheriff, the circuit court, the circuit attorney, the state public defender and the director of the Missouri Department of Corrections.

The 14 voting members will include 12 representatives of the various participating agencies, plus two representatives of community-based agencies whose mission is similar to the CJCC. Six nonvoting members will represent participating criminal justice organizations.

 The agency’s executive director is Debbie Allen, a member of the FUSE Executive Partnership Program. FUSE is a national nonprofit that works with cities and counties to develop new programs. Allen, whose salary is paid by FUSE, started working with the mayor’s office last fall to establish the CJCC. 

The city will have to establish a budget for the program when Allen leaves, in October or a bit later, the mayor said.

In debate in the Board of Aldermen, there was concern that the council’s membership would lean toward the prosecution. Mullen disagreed.

“I wouldn’t think of it as being prosecution-heavy at all,” he said. “In fact, of the worries that the circuit attorney’s office probably had in the beginning was that it was going to be too defense-packed.” 

Mullen thinks the council’s membership is balanced.

“We have just about every player in the system,” he said.

“This is not just the public defender or just the jailer or just the judges,” Krewson said. “This is a system that we have here, so recognize it as a system. Bringing people together I think will result in better outcomes.”