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A Tale of Two Cities’ Responses

21 Jan

Both Byrnes Mill and Hillsboro have had to face issues of police misconduct in recent months. The responses of their respective political leadership could not have been more different. Let’s compare.

-In both cases, officers privately approached city leadership to report the misconduct. In Byrnes Mill, the leaders ignored the officers. In Hillsboro, the mayor reacted right away.

-Hillsboro requested that the competent, trusted, impartial JeffCo Sheriff conduct an investigation. Byrnes Mill requested that the not-impartial, not trusted Arnold police department, which has a history of attacking accusers and denying allegations, do an investigation, but only after the officers took their concerns public.

-The Hillsboro report was released within a few days by the sheriff. The Arnold investigation took weeks, and Byrnes Mill only released a short summary. They say they are going to ask a county judge what information they can release from the full report, which really makes no sense and appears to be a delay tactic. Byrnes Mill has apparently still gotten no order from a judge, over three months later.

-The Hillsboro report included a thorough review of the problems within the PD. The Byrnes Mill report was narrowly focused on the allegations in the no-confidence letter. Can you imagine what the sheriff would find if he investigated Byrnes Mill?

-Also within a few days, the Hillsboro chief resigned and an officer was fired. In Byrnes Mill, the officer who was the subject of the no-confidence vote, Roger Ide, was eventually separated from the department, and the police chief was shunted over to a cushy PR job. Four of the eight officers who signed the no-confidence letter have also left the department, one way or another. Byrnes Mill then secretly installed a buddy of the Arnold police chief as its new chief.

-Hillsboro allowed an officer from the sheriff’s department to serve as its temporary chief, and is at least open to the idea of turning policing over to the sheriff for good, although the weak resignation of the Hillsboro mayor probably kills the chances of that happening. Byrnes Mill reportedly had a few Arnold officers help out, and you will have to pry the BMPD out of the cold, dead hands of city leadership, despite a series of embarrassing failures over the past decade.

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Hillsboro is Latest County Police Department in Disarray

17 Jan

You may recall that back in July 2018 the county sheriff revealed in a report that the DeSoto police department was wholly incompetent, with insufficient training, leadership, policies, and equipment. Well, we have just learned that Hillsboro is in the same predicament.

The sheriff was called on to investigate the Hillsboro PD last week for the initial purpose of looking into theft. It turns out that there was allegedly some falsifying of time sheets leading to unearned pay. Hillsboro police chief Steve Hutt resigned and another officer was fired, but this was only the tip of the iceberg.

The sheriff’s department found a variety of shocking failures in Hillsboro. The report can be read here. The findings include:

  • One officer was not trained on his weapon, and failed qualification for it, but was still allowed to work.
  • Officers were given two weeks of on the job training before being allowed to work solo, versus the standard of 12 weeks in most departments.
  • Hillsboro lacked policies for basic police functions.
  • Officers lacked any documented training on equipment or policies.
  • Pornography was found in at headquarters and in police cars.

Handling of evidence was another huge problem. Evidence was sitting around, unsecured and unlabeled, including sex crimes evidence, and thus unable to be used in prosecution. Other evidence, including heroin, was missing. There was mold in the evidence fridge. Additionally, felony and crash reports were not completed, again making prosecution and insurance claims impossible.

Because of all this, on Friday the 11th, when the biggest snowstorm in five years was bearing down on our region, the JeffCo Sheriff had to take time to train Hillsboro officers on policies (use of force, discharge of weapons, pursuits) and weapons, and do firearm qualifications testing, while repairing and maintaining Hillsboro’s decrepit firearms.

In addition, Hillsboro was doing the bare minimum of background checks on police officers before hiring them. It sounds like they basically just checked CaseNet for convictions. They had no idea what past violations or personal issues these applicants had.

So, Hillsboro residents, think of all this before you panic about losing your police department, or lament for the officers who could lose their jobs. Your city is in a dangerous place. Officers or residents could be hurt or killed, crimes could fail to be solved and prosecuted, and your city could be hit with massive lawsuits if an untrained officer with no policy guidance shoots and kills a suspect or innocent bystander.

The JeffCo Sheriff’s Department will lead the Hillsboro PD for the immediate future. Hillsboro will have to decide whether to attempt to fix all these problems, or to turn policing over to the county. I tried to argue here that DeSoto should have taken the latter option, but no, residents there clung hard to the ideal of a local police force. Hopefully Hillsboro leaders will resist this uninformed impulse and let the better resourced, better trained, more capable county sheriff take over, and disband the Hillsboro PD. As Sheriff Dave Marshak said, “everyone in our county deserves a competent professional police force.”

 

Domestic Altercation at Home of Pevely Police Chief

26 Dec

According to a police report, the JeffCo sheriff’s department was called to the home of Pevely police chief Charles A. Moutray by his wife on the night of November 17, 2018 after a domestic altercation. The responding officer completed a probable cause statement against the chief for 4th degree domestic assault, but no arrest was made and the county prosecutor later decided not to press charges.

The physical incidents described in the report focused on Moutray’s wife’s attempts to view his cell phone. Moutray, who goes by Tony, is described to have flipped her over his body and off the bed onto the floor, where she struck her head. Later, Moutray is accused of breaking a door in order to unlock it and get to his wife, at which time he dragged her to the ground by her ponytail. He then left the residence before police arrived.

In Moutray’s statement, given to police at a nearby church parking lot, he claims his wife accidentally fell off the bed when reaching for his phone. He also claims he grabbed her by the neck in order to retrieve his phone so he could leave the house.

Domestic assault in the 4th degree is a Class A misdemeanor.

The city of Pevely does not appear to have taken any action in response to this incident, according to a review of minutes of closed sessions of board meetings.

Moutray was one of three Pevely officers involved in a 2016 arrest that led to an excessive force lawsuit and a $300,000 settlement by the city, which was finalized this past September.

 

DeSoto Should Turn Policing Over to the Sheriff

15 Jul

This will be a rather unpopular opinion in some circles, but here goes. Herculaneum last month solicited a proposal for the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office (JCSO) to take over policing in the city, but the city rejected the offer without much discussion (which I think was a mistake). Now, with the current chaos in DeSoto, the city will consider the idea of turning things over to the sheriff. Given the high level of public attachment to the idea of having a local police force, and a general reluctance to give up control, the city will probably reject the idea. However, DeSoto would be better off going with the sheriff.

Here are the main reasons:

Pay. With its passage of Prop P, JCSO has taken care, for the forseeable future, of the officer pay problem that is facing most police departments. They will be able to attract a sufficient number of qualified applicants to field a complete contingent of officers. If DeSoto decides to maintain its own PD, they will have to raise revenue in order to increase police salaries. The city claims it will be able to reassign $200,000 of general fund money away from parks to police when money from its recently-passed parks and stormwater tax starts rolling in, but that assumes that the city will refrain from spending 1/3 of the estimated $600,000 proceeds from the tax each year on new projects and instead use it for park maintenance and salaries, which seems unlikely.

So while it is possible that a proposal from the JCSO will cost more than DeSoto’s current police budget ($975,000 plus $260,000 for dispatching), one has to factor in the additional spending DeSoto must do to bring its department up to standard and raise salaries. Note also that, even if the DeSoto PD goes away, the city will be able to keep its own municipal court and receive ticket revenue.

Training and Experience. A number of recent departures have gutted the DeSoto PD of its experienced leaders. The department has no chief, no detective, and only one sergeant. As Sheriff Dave Marshak indicated in his note, the PD is not up to date on policies and procedures, creating increased risk of liability. The lack of an experienced detective mean victims of violent crimes are less likely to receive justice. The sheriff indicated that, even with the needed money, it would take a long time to bring the PD up to acceptable standards. This is not a knock on the officers in DeSoto, just a consequence of high turnover and low budgets.

Leadership. While they do not seem to recognize this, city leadership is largely responsible for the current issues at DeSoto. In discussions, I have heard blame directed at several different people in city government, and there are others not currently in government who caused problems in their day. What are the chances of this leadership changing any time soon? I have my doubts. There has been some turnover lately, but it does not seem to me like enough has changed to warrant confidence that the city can turn things around and stop driving police officers out of the department.

Misconceptions

I have heard a number of misconceptions from the public in Herculaneum and DeSoto relating to a sheriff switch that I would like to address.

Deputies will have to come all the way from Hillsboro. First of all, deputies don’t sit in Hillsboro waiting for calls, they are out on the roads in whichever of the three zones in the county they are assigned to. Second, the Herky proposal included officers assigned exclusively to the city. The DeSoto proposal will undoubtedly include the same provision.

The JCSO would be spread too thin. If the JCSO takes over policing in DeSoto, the city will pay for the privilege. The JCSO will be able to use this money to hire more officers. Maybe even officers from DeSoto. Therefore, both the city and the unincorporated county will have a sufficient number of deputies on patrol.

Response times are too long. It is true that in the past, due to salary issues, the JCSO did not have enough deputies, and therefore it would take a long time for deputies to respond to low-priority calls. However, with the passage of Prop P, JeffCo has begun hiring many new deputies, even though the tax hasn’t kicked in yet. According to a Facebook post today, the JCSO will be at full strength in two weeks for the first time in 20 years. Response times in the unincorporated county will be improving. And this would be a moot point for DeSoto anyway, since it would have its own dedicated deputies, as I said above.

Probably Not Gonna Happen

In the end, DeSoto will almost surely keep its own police department and its own dispatchers. That is the politically smart choice, because that’s what the vocal contingent of DeSoto residents seems to want. And councilman Clayton Henry has a double conflict of interest in keeping the PD (his wife’s dispatcher job and city ammo purchases from his business). But I think this decision will lead to the city simply muddling along for the next several years or more. I also predict that the city will take this outcry of approval for a hometown police department as an opportunity to propose a tax hike for law enforcement. So get ready for that. However, city leadership will change little, so it is quite possible that good cops will continue to depart from the city at a high rate.

Suggestions for Next DeSoto Council Meeting

12 Jul

At the DeSoto city council meeting Tuesday night, which was belatedly moved to the gym at Vineland Elementary, the council voted on a deal to reimburse the county sheriff’s office for supervising the DeSoto police department for the short term. This is after the city police chief, Joe Edwards, resigned last week. The residents of the city also had the chance to make their feelings known during the comment portion of the meeting. Here’s a TV news report on the proceedings.

The next meeting, on July 16, will also be held at the gym. Before that meeting occurs, I have some advice for the city.

1. Have more than one microphone. There was a mic at a podium to the right side of the council table where speakers would stand, but nothing at the council table. So when the council was going through its motions and votes, nobody could hear anything. This led to a bit of an uproar when the council was voting on the temporary contract with the sheriff. Some in the crowd were mad that voting was happening before public comment, but others were mad they couldn’t hear what the council was doing. The sole microphone was attached to a portable speaker that was stashed in the corner. Move that speaker out and turn it up next time.

2. Don’t let the city attorney run the show. I have been to meetings of several county bodies, but have never seen the attorney (in this case, Mark Bishop, who is running for county prosecutor) play such an active role. He got up to introduce the contract to the council, and even “strongly urged” the council to approve it. Meanwhile the city manager didn’t speak at all. When the aforementioned uproar took place, Bishop was the guy trying to get the crowd to quiet down. The mayor spoke at the beginning and the end, but he’s gotta take charge and put Bishop, who is being sued by a recently-resigned Desoto officer, in the corner.

3. Talk about the actual problems with the city and police department. At the beginning of the meeting, Mayor Rich McCane gave some extended remarks in which he blamed Ferguson, Senate Bill 5 (which stopped cities from making excessive profits from writing tickets), wages, and other things for the current problems with the police department. He only vaguely referred to “internal issues” during his talk, but managed once again to whinge about the thwarted annexation of the Union Pacific property, from which he hoped to gain new revenue. Conversely, during the public comment time, residents spoke about leadership being the main problem. Several relatives of former cops spoke, saying expressly that money was not the issue. The two biggest applause lines of the night were:

  • “We need a change in leadership” and
  • “The chief (Edwards) destroyed the department”

DeSoto operates under a ridiculous “absolutely no comment” rule when it comes to personnel, which they claim is due to state law, but I believe they are going overboard. There is no reason a longtime city manager should get fired, like David Dews did, and the city provides absolutely no reasoning whatsoever. The people who paid for Dews’ big severance deserved to know what happened, and in the current situation, the people also deserve straight talk. If city leaders were as worried about ethics as they were about total silence on personnel issues, then they wouldn’t be in this mess right now.

April 2018 Election Recap

8 Apr

Let’s look at some of the headlines from the local elections held a few days ago.

Taxes: Six of nine tax measures succeeded in all.

The property tax for the county sheriff passed in a big way, with 64% of the vote. A sales tax hike for police passed in Hillsboro with 71% of the vote.

Byrnes Mill went 1 for 2 on tax hikes after going 0 for 3 last year (with two close losses). This time, a road maintenance tax won by 31 votes and a transportation tax failed by six votes. Will the city try the failed tax proposal again in a future election?

Antonia Fire’s 35-cent property tax proposal failed by 56-44%, after a 50-cent tax lost by the same margin in November. This time 2,100 people voted, versus 1,489 last time. Will the district try again in a future election? Maybe 25 cents next time?

A tax for a Hillsboro library failed for the third time in recent years, with 64% voting against a property tax proposal. Will they try again in a future election?

Despite all the turmoil in city government with firings, resignations, and lawsuits, DeSoto’s Prop P park and stormwater tax passed with 67% of the vote.

DeSoto: Some shake-up took place, as one city council member who was serving as mayor, Larry Sanders, was knocked off, and one school board member (recently fired as city manager) who was previously appointed to the board to fill a vacancy, David Dews, failed to win a full term.

Pevely: Big turnover, as three incumbents, all part of the faction that wanted to fire acting police chief Tony Moutray, were defeated. One, Rick Arnold, also facing an n-word controversy, lost to a write-in candidate.

Arnold: Two incumbent councilmen won close races. In ward 4, Gary Plunk beat Randy Hoselton by three votes. In Ward 3, Vern Sullivan beat Rod Mullins by 12 votes. Sullivan was assisted by a third candidate, William Denman, who received 62 votes, which would have been more than enough to put Mullins over the top. Denman also played spoiler in the mayor race last year, when incumbent Ron Counts beat councilman Phil Amato by 176 votes while Denman got 276 votes. It’s almost like Denman entered these races for that specific purpose…

Denman’s name has popped up in Arnold before in association with a shady political group called Citizens For a Better Arnold (CFABA) that used outside money to push candidates who supported red light cameras. Early on, CFABA supported Amato, but later on Counts moved over to the dark side, and Amato recently broke with the Counts regime (and with the Democratic party, he claims). It is all rather shadowy.

Also in Arnold, he who I like to call the Critchlow candidate, Jim Chellew, was predictably voted onto the Fox school board.

Long List of April Tax Measures

17 Mar

Local elections will take place on April 3, and the 15% or so of voters who bother to show will be faced with many tax hike proposals, just like we were a year ago. Here is a full list from the county website:

  • Sheriff’s Office: 35-cent property tax increase for pay increases for deputies, as well as training and equipping. This is motivated by the fact that a number of deputies have left for higher pay elsewhere. I know may people who oppose all tax increases who see the need for this tax and support it.
  • Hillsboro library: 28-cent property tax increase to fund a new Hillsboro branch of the Jefferson County Library. Efforts to establish this branch failed in 2012 and 2014.
  • Hillsboro: 1/2 cent sales tax for police.
  • Arnold: increase in business license fees in order to triple its revenue from this source to pay for police and improve streets and parks. This is after trying and failing to increase sales taxes in 2015. This seems to be part of a general strategy to increase the burdens on Arnold businesses.
  • Northwest R-1: a bond issue for various facility improvements. While taxes will not go up under this measure, it would prevent a tax from expiring in about 2034.
  • Byrnes Mill: two 1/2-cent sales taxes, one for capital improvements and one for transportation. This is down from the three taxes the city tried and failed to pass a year ago. One sales tax lost on a tie then, and another lost by three votes. Again the city blames SB5, which stopped the city’s policing for profit ticket-writing strategy, for the need for new revenue.
  • DeSoto: 1/2-cent sales tax for storm water control and parks.
  • Antonia Fire: 35-cent property tax for staffing, training, and equipment. This is less than the 50-cent tax the district tried and failed to pass in November, which lost 56-44%.

I went ahead and created a chart of April tax measures voted on and passed in each of the past 5 years, for comparison. This does not include the Prop V vehicle tax votes that each local entity held over the past couple of elections.

tax vote chart

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