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Recent Missouri Editorials

December 4, 2018

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Dec. 1

Time for good cops to end police mutual protection society

Whatever doubts St. Louisans might have had about the St. Louis police officers who administered their personal form of street justice during the September 2017 protests must certainly have been erased by Thursday’s federal indictment and suspension of four officers. Their own texts allow no other interpretation than that their abuse of authority and violation of protesters’ civil rights was premeditated and conspiratorial.

They went into those protests with a goon squad mentality, hellbent on having a fun time bashing heads and inflicting pain. And when they got caught red-handed engaging in blatant abuses, they lied to protect each other, according to a federal indictment.

Thursday’s indictment affirms what this newspaper has contended for the past 14 months: Certain officers decided to take the law into their own hands, serving as judge and jury on the streets rather than allowing the courts to determine innocence or guilt. Yet now, their police-union brethren are urging the public not to pass judgment and to allow these officers their day in court, even though those same officers denied this right to the people they victimized. The union in St. Louis County is doing likewise in the case of two officers fired last week for lying about an unauthorized high-speed chase that resulted in a civilian’s death.

It’s time to end this mutual-protection society and for honest cops — who comprise the vast majority of the region’s police forces — to step up and declare that they will no longer lie or honor a code of silence so bad cops can keep their jobs.

The 2017 protests erupted after officer Jason Stockley’s acquittal in the fatal shooting of Anthony Lamar Smith. Text messages cited in the federal indictment suggest officers were savoring the opportunity beat up protesters regardless of whether they had broken laws. They awaited the arrival of nighttime darkness to hide their faces and make it harder to be identified for the abuses they planned to commit.

If not for the beating administered to an undercover police officer, these abuses might have gone unpunished — largely because too many of their colleagues on the scene were willing to lie about what they saw or observe a fraternal code of silence.

Did some protesters break the law? Absolutely, and they deserved to be arrested. But the thuggish tactics of a few officers, apparently egged on by at least one of their sergeants, violated the civil rights of law-abiding protesters and non-protesting observers. Then the lying began when videos and news reports of the police abuses began circulating. Former Post-Dispatch reporter Mike Faulk was among those who experienced the abuses firsthand.

Because these officers’ credibility has been so shattered, St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner felt compelled to dismiss 91 cases that would have relied on their testimony. Chances are high that, among those 91, some truly dangerous criminals deserved to be prosecuted and imprisoned. Now they could walk free, all because a few bad cops decided they owned the streets — and the good cops around them lacked the courage to intervene.

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The St. Joseph News-Press, Dec. 3

Police need to take lead on social media

The Internet continues to make an impact — for better and for worse — on our daily lives. It should be no surprise that it has had the same effect on the way a community fights crime.

There’s been an upsurge in communications inside various crime watch groups on social media, particularly on Facebook. In these groups, people often share their witness accounts, alerting community members to potential dangers.

These social media posts also bring out a speculative element, enabling anyone to presume identities and details surrounding incidents. Even more concerning, a social media platform can be used to post and share false information, as was the case last week with rumors of an active shooter on the Missouri Western State University campus.

That rumor turned out to be false.

Across the country, law enforcement officers have taken note of these developments.

“The luxury of deliberation and reflection is rapidly disappearing, as the traditional news cycle erodes into a continuous blur,” said Don Kelly, past president of the National Information Officers Association. “We find ourselves inundated with broad requests, even demands, for information from varied sources, all conditioned to expect immediate answers.”

Rather than attempt to control the flow of information, the St. Joseph Police Department should strive to engage with the people they protect and serve where they congregate the most: the Internet.

Officers should take active roles in these Facebook groups, quelling rumor and suspicion where those things arise. At the very least, the department’s own Facebook page should be more active, alerting the public to major crimes and traffic issues.

We understand time constraints and the need for law enforcement agencies to exercise discretion for the safety of the public and officers. Detectives also withhold information for investigatory purposes. Details outside of these realms can help community members become more informed about the safety of their community.

Local news outlets should do their part by being responsive to actionable information given to them by the community. Reports presented on the digital space should strive to protect the identities of victims and not reveal details that would put community members or officers in harm’s way.

Ultimately, a two-way model of communication will help the public and police come to a greater understanding of the crime in our community. While the logistics of such a model are best left to those in charge of our police force, it’s evidently clear on social media that the community desires more information.

Let’s try to make it accurate information.

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The Kansas City Star, Nov. 30

Should Missourians be allowed to sign law-changing petitions electronically?

In mid-November, the secretary of state received petition initiatives proposing just such a constitutional change. If passed, the state would be required to set up a “web-based system” for accepting electronic petition signatures. Every voters would be given a unique identification number to verify his or her participation.

As it turns out, the petitions had technical flaws and were rejected by Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft. But the idea of allowing electronic petition signatures in Missouri, which has come up before, is intriguing.

It would certainly open up lawmaking in the state. Petitioners would no longer need to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to collect signatures on street corners and in parking lots (although paper signatures would still be accepted). This would allow voters to study proposals more closely before signing a petition in haste.

It would also dramatically change the relationship between the people and members of the state legislature.

Missouri enacted the initiative process in 1908. Like voters in many other states, Missourians were angry that popular bills were often bottled up in the state capital. They voted to give themselves the power to enact laws they wanted.

Voters have used the power dozens of times since. Some of the state’s most important decisions have been made at the polls, not in the hallways of the Capitol in Jefferson City. Allowing the collection of electronic petition signatures would undoubtedly increase the number of petitions, and the issues they cover, giving even more power to the people.

We’re not yet prepared to endorse that idea. But just as in the early 1900s, Missourians are showing unmistakable signs of frustration with their elected leaders. Voters are literally taking the law into their own hands.

The Clean Missouri initiative is a good example. Republicans, and some Democrats, are angry that voters embedded ethics reform in the state’s constitution, using the petition process to put the matter before voters.

But disgruntled lawmakers have no one to blame but themselves. Time and again the General Assembly debated important ethics reforms, only to reject them. It can’t be any surprise that voters, tired of the delays, used the tools they have to force ethics changes into the law.

That’s precisely why the state has a petition process.

This year voters enacted a constitutional amendment allowing medical marijuana. They raised the minimum wage. Both issues were put on the ballot by citizens through the petitions process In August, a petition-led referendum embraced protections for unions in Missouri.

The message from voters to lawmakers is crystal clear: We will do what you will not. We may also undo what you have done.

Those messages should ring in the ears of every legislator in the state next year.

Allowing voters to sign petitions electronically would make the process easier and potentially render the legislature more irrelevant. If elected officials want to forestall that possibility, they must listen to voters more closely.

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