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Justice for All

The events in Ferguson shone a bright, national spotlight on law enforcement and the municipal courts, not just in Ferguson, but throughout the St. Louis region. The Commission identified priority calls to action for police reform, court reform, and consolidation of police departments and municipal courts.

Police reform calls to action address use of force, police training, civilian review, and response to demonstration. Court reform calls to action address sentencing practices, protection of constitutional rights, and conflicts of interest in municipal and county courts. Consolidation calls to action address consolidation among St. Louis County’s 81 different municipal courts and 60 separate municipal police departments.

Within this Priority

  • Use of Force
  • Training
  • Civilian Review
  • Response to Demonstration
  • Sentencing Reform
  • Constitutional Rights
  • Conflict of Interest
  • Consequences of Court Fragmentation
  • Consequences of Police Fragmentation

Racial Equity Lens Assessment

Police Reform

The signature priorities in this section address four key areas the Commission believes merit urgent attention:use of force, police training, civilian review, and response to demonstration.

Use of Force

Use of force is a part of law enforcement work, and law enforcement agencies have policies that outline the appropriate use of force. These policies describe a “Use- of-Force Continuum,” an escalating series of actions an officer may take to resolve a situation, ranging from simple officer presence, where no force is used, up to use of lethal force, where a lethal weapon is used to gain control of a situation (National Institute of Justice, 2009).

Relationships between law enforcement and the community become strained when force is––or is perceived to be––used to resolve a situation that could have been resolved through alternate means farther down the use-of-force continuum.

Policies and training on use of force should authorize only the minimal amount of force necessary to protect citizen and officer safety, that is proportional to the incident, that brings an unlawful situation safely and effectively under control, and that preserves the constitutional and human rights of the citizen. The uses of force toward the lethal end of the continuum should be used only in the rarest, most dangerous of situations.

Excessive use of force has several negative consequences that the calls to action in this priority area aim to address. First is the disrespect of a citizen’s constitutional and human rights. When citizens are treated with more force than their actions merit, then their rights have been violated.

But the negative consequences of excessive use of force extend beyond the individuals on the receiving end of that force. The regular use of force has led many citizens to view the police as an occupying force in their neighborhoods, damaging community trust, and making community safety even more difficult.

Relations between community and police in our region and in Ferguson were strained before August 9, 2014.
But the events that occurred on that day and in the months that followed have forever changed the way many citizens in Ferguson—and throughout the region—see law enforcement. Repairing that relationship will not be easy, nor will it happen quickly.

However, any attempt to repair that relationship must begin through changes in use-of-force policies, officer training, and department culture. The burden for this initial work falls on officers and police departments, as sworn servants of the public, from whom they derive their power.

Decreased Use of Force Will Require Revised Policies, Training, and Culture

Decreasing the use of force has the ability to demonstrate greater respect for constitutional and human rights, repair damaged community/law enforcement relationships, reduce crime, and better equip our region’s law enforcement officers to protect themselves and our citizens.

A policing approach known as procedural justice suggests that the way citizens view the justice system—including their treatment by law enforcement officers and the courts—is linked more with whether they perceive the process they experience to be fair, as opposed to whether they perceive the outcome to be fair. This is to say, if citizens feel heard and respected, and if they feel that they are interacting with an unbiased representative of the law who is treating them with fundamental fairness, then they are more likely to see the system as legitimate, respect the law enforcement process, and cooperate with law enforcement efforts (COPS, 2013).

We heard from many Black citizens in the St. Louis region who do not feel heard or respected when they interact with the police or the courts. They do not feel that they are treated in an unbiased way. Rather, they feel that the presence of bias, a lack of respect, and an unwillingness to listen on the part of the police too often lead to unnecessary and/or excessive use of force.

Changing this reality will take more than simple changes in policy, though explicit policy changes regarding use of force are recommended. It will take more than training, though training in how and when to use de-escalation tactics and tactical withdrawal techniques, in social intelligence and social interaction skills, and in anti-bias and cultural responsiveness, are recommended here as well.

For policy and training changes to take hold, there must also be a change in law enforcement culture. Law enforcement organizations must adopt rules and policies that emphasize the guardian role, which is defined by procedural justice, respect, and the protection of human rights (President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, 2015). Some independent agencies in our region have voluntarily done so already, but if those policies conflict with the existing culture, they will not be institutionalized and behavior will not change. Leadership and line officers alike must understand the negative impacts of excessive use of force, and commit to a law enforcement culture and organizational mindset that supports guardianship and minimal use of force.

When Force is Used, Investigations Must be Free from the Perception of Bias

Even if policies, training, and culture change, sometimes force must be used. When force is used, investigations into the use of force must be thorough and unbiased.

Today, public distrust in the police is compounded by the perception that when force is used, investigations into the use of force incident will be biased toward the law enforcement officer. This distrust stems from a system that relies on internal rather than independent investigations into these incidents.

Investigations into use of force are no doubt sensitive, and the desire of police departments and local prosecutors to maintain control of them is understandable. But at minimum, keeping such investigations in house undermines public trust in law enforcement and the justice system.

If the use of force is to be reformed, use-of-force policies must be examined and re-evaluated, officers must be trained to use the least amount of force necessary, and, when force is used, the incident must be reviewed through rigorous, fair investigations.


Calls to Action

Update Use of Force Statute for Fleeing Suspects

Update use of force statute to reflect the United States Supreme Court decision Tennessee v. Garner, which states that, under the Fourth Amendment, a law enforcement officer pursuing a fleeing suspect may not use deadly force to prevent escape unless “the officer has probable cause to believe that the suspect poses a significant threat of…

Accountable Bodies: Missouri Legislature Missouri Governor 

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Revise Use of Force Policies and Training

Direct police departments across the state to revise their policies and training on use of force to authorize only the minimal amount of force necessary:• To protect citizen and officer safety, • That is proportional to the incident, • That brings an unlawful situation safely and effectively under control, and • That preserves the…

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Establish Use of Force Database

Direct the state of Missouri to establish a statewide database on critical use of force statistics in order to improve department operations, state policy, and the public at large. The database must be publicly available, and in keeping with current sunshine laws, ensure a degree of anonymity that would not identify specific officers’ involved. All…

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Assign Attorney General As Special Prosecutor in Use of Force Cases

The Attorney General shall serve as the special prosecutor in all cases of police use of force resulting in death, officer-involved shootings resulting in injury or death, or in-custody deaths.  

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Create Task Forces for Short-Term Investigation of Use of Force

In the interim (until the previous call is adopted), each major police force shall create a task force of diverse and experienced investigators to investigate all cases of police use of force resulting in death, officer-involved shootings resulting in injury or death, or in-custody deaths.1 These law enforcement agencies should then enter into agreements to…

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  1. National Institute of Justice. (2009). The use of force continuum. Retrieved from enforcement/officer-safety/use-of-force/Pages/continuum. aspx
  2. Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS), U.S. Department of Justice. (2013). The case for procedural justice:fairness as a crime prevention tool. U.S. Department of Justice:Community Policing Dispatch. Retrieved from
  3. Fischer, C. (2014). Legitimacy and procedural justice:A new element of police leadership. police executive research forum. Retrieved from and%20procedural%20justice%20-%20a%20new%20element%20of%20police%20leadership.pdf
  4. President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing. (2015). Final report of the president’s task force on 21st century policing. Washington, DC:Office of Community Oriented Policing Services. Retrieved from:


It would be unreasonable to expect that a person pulled off the street, with no prior policing experience, would be prepared to serve effectively as a police officer.

Rather, we expect that person to be trained extensively in the skills, practices, procedures, rules, and protocols of policing. We expect that person to learn from experienced mentors, to be given regular feedback, to be evaluated on performance by experts, and to be overseen by the citizens from whom they derive power.

We might expect this level of preparedness for someone in any job, but given the seriousness of the work and the ability of the officer to take life and seriously injure, we have even higher expectations of the training, preparation, and resulting professionalism of police officers.

In other words, we believe in the value, power, and potential of training to produce more effective, more capable, and better police officers.

Current Training is Insufficient and Inconsistent

The realities of policing today require a transformative approach to training. Our law enforcement officers need the executive-level relationship and communications training that supports their ability to build relationships with, communicate well with, and respect the communities that they serve.

To help decrease biased policing, officers need to be trained in cultural responsiveness and trained to recognize the impact of historical trauma. By understanding the issues related to topics such as implicit bias, racial profiling, fair and impartial policing, cultural and religious responsiveness, and concerns related to specific groups, including citizens with mental illness and members of the LGBTQ community, officers will be better able to understand the citizens they encounter, treat them fairly, and foster trust and mutual respect in diverse communities.

To support officer well-being and help officers manage the daily stress of policing, training and ongoing support must attend to the mental and physical wellness of officers. Ensuring physically and mentally strong officers helps secure public safety and ensure neighborhoods are patrolled by healthy personnel.

To ensure that all officers across the region receive training of a consistent quality that addresses the critical topics outlined above, officers should train together at a common training facility, sharing a common curriculum. The fractured nature of police departments in the region, with 60 different police departments, leads to inconsistent training, as well as problems of coordination and collaboration. Training officers together will provide consistent training in essential topics, foster coordination and collaboration, and also deliver economies of scale.


Calls to Action

Consolidate Police Training Centers

St. Louis City and County shall combine their resources to create a single regional police training center that will offer basic, in-service, and advanced training for all police officers in the City and County, in line with Ferguson Commission proposed and approved training standards. (Adapted from PERF Report’s Recommendation #1)

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Increase Police Training Hours

St. Louis area police departments should develop and mandate tactical, wellness, and anti-bias training each year consisting of an additional 24 hours per year for a total of 72 hours in a three-year reporting period.

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Include Social Interaction Training in POST

POST shall ensure that basic police officer training includes lessons to improve social interaction as well as tactical skills. Topics shall include critical thinking, social intelligence, implicit bias, fair and impartial policing, historical trauma, and other topics that address capacity to build trust and legitimacy in diverse communities and offer better skills for gaining compliance…

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Include Implicit Bias and Cultural Responsiveness Training in POST

POST shall ensure both basic recruit and in-service training incorporates content around recognizing and confronting implicit bias and cultural responsiveness. • This shall occur with the assistance of advocacy groups that represent the viewpoints of communities that have adversarial relationships with law enforcement. • Law enforcement agencies statewide shall implement training for officers that cover…

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Civilian Review

A recurring theme that links many of the calls to action recommended by the Ferguson Commission is distrust between citizens and law enforcement. Underlying that distrust is a sense of distance and secrecy about law enforcement, a sense that the work they do is inaccessible to the average citizen.

This distance between citizens and law enforcement inhibits open and effective communication, prevents the establishment of relationships based on mutual respect, allows for bias, and discourages the patience and understanding that communication and respectful relationships cultivate. The resulting distrust makes citizens feel unsafe in their own communities and makes it harder for police to effectively and respectfully do their job.

Civilian review of law enforcement activity is a significant step toward addressing that mistrust. Giving civilians, who are critical stakeholders in community safety, and from whom police officers derive their power as public servants, a seat at the law enforcement table creates opportunities for increased communication, greater understanding of both community needs and law enforcement concerns, and a broader range of perspectives when policies and practices are discussed.

More importantly, having citizens at the table creates greater accountability for law enforcement, and a true opportunity for citizen voices to be heard in the law enforcement process, both of which are critical factors for rebuilding trust and legitimacy.

When Citizens Bring Perspective

Because they do not do police work every day, and because they do not have years of police training, citizens engaged in the oversight process will ask questions and challenge assumptions about police protocol that officers would never have thought to consider.

Feedback channels and opportunities for evaluation are beneficial to any organization. Civilian review boards help exercise this culture of awareness and serve as a formalized bridge into the community.

Citizens are needed at the law enforcement table not because they are experts in policing, but precisely because they are not experts. Their insight into the day-to- day lives of average citizens is the perspective that law enforcement agencies need to effectively protect and serve the community.


Calls to Action

Create Civilian Review Boards at the Municipal Level

Municipalities (community organizations, municipal governments) shall establish independent civilian oversight boards designed to meet the unique needs of each municipality. In addition, independent civilian oversight boards shall have the power to review non-confidential police data and engage in regular meetings with police upper management to advise them on policies and practices. The purpose of the board shall be to identify any administrative, supervisory,…

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Create Civilian Review Boards at the County Level

Counties across the state should establish independent civilian oversight boards designed to manage municipal oversight boards and civilian investigations particularly when local efforts cannot sufficiently address incidents under review. In addition, these independent investigative boards shall align with the following characteristics for effectiveness:• Able and authorized to investigate potential criminal wrongdoing by officers and…

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Response to Demonstration

The police response to demonstrators in the days following the death of Michael Brown was central to the rise of Ferguson as a national story, which across the next few months would lead to much criticism from protest groups, media outlets, and eventually the U.S. Department of Justice, whose September 2015 report contains nearly 50 critical findings (United States Department of Justice, 2015).

Specific criticisms cited violations of constitutional rights, escalation and use of excessive force, use of military- style weapons and gear, inappropriate use of K-9 units, communication breakdowns, and indiscriminate use of tear gas on crowds, which is banned by international law (United States Department of Justice, 2015).

What all these problems point to is the lack of an appropriate plan for dealing with demonstration.

St. Louis law enforcement agencies should aim to have a more human, non-militarized, proportional response to future protest or demonstration activity in the region. Thus, it is imperative that the entire region’s law enforcement and partner units prepare for such activity by developing a comprehensive Demonstration Response Plan, constructed with community input. The plan proposed by the Ferguson Commission was developed in dialogue with grassroots organizations, activists, local policing officials, and national experts. Its focus is on prioritizing the preservation of human life, honoring the principles of community-based policing, and protecting the human and constitutional rights of all citizens who wish to exercise their right to protest.


Calls to Action

Develop a Comprehensive Demonstration Response Plan

Direct County and City Governments across the state to differentiate emergency and demonstration approaches by consulting with community members, community organizers and law enforcement officials to design a publicly available Demonstration Response Plan that:First prioritizes the preservation of human life and adheres to the principles of community policing, guardianship, and the protection of human and constitutional rights (Adapted from Rules of…

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  1.  United States Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division.
    (2015). Investigation of the Ferguson Police Department.
    Retrieved from:
  2. Don’t Shoot Coalition. (2014). Proposed rules for engagement. Retrieved from:

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Court Reform

The signature priorities in this section address four key areas the Commission believes merit urgent attention:sentencing practices, protection of constitutional rights, conflicts of interest in municipal and county courts, and consolidation of municipal courts.

Sentencing Reform

One of the most basic tenets of justice is the idea that the punishment should fit the crime.

In the St. Louis region, minor offenses can easily lead to major, disproportionate punishments.

For instance, in Ferguson, from 2010 to December 2014, municipal arrest warrants were issued most often for Driving While License Is Suspended, Expired License Plates, Failure to Register a Vehicle, No Proof of Insurance, and Speed Limit violations (not including “Failure to Appear” violations) (United States Department of Justice, 2015).

While these violations of municipal code would not on their own result in jail time, once a warrant has been issued on the case, “arrest and detention are not uncommon” (United States Department of Justice, 2015). In fact, “during the roughly six-month period from April to September 2014, 256 people were booked into the Ferguson City Jail after being arrested at least in part for an outstanding warrant—96% of whom were African American. Of these individuals, 28 were held for longer than two days, and 27 of these 28 people were Black” (United States Department of Justice, 2015).

Issuing Arrest Warrants for Nonviolent Offenses is Common

This practice of issuing arrest warrants for nonviolent offenses is widespread in St. Louis County. In 2013 alone, the municipal court in Ferguson—a city of 21,135 people—issued 32,975 arrest warrants for nonviolent offenses, mostly driving violations. Pine Lawn, with a population of just 3,275, issued 5,333 new warrants, bringing its total outstanding warrants to 23,457 (ArchCity Defenders, 2014).

Pine Lawn, with a population of just 3,275, issued 5,333 new warrants, bringing its total outstanding warrants to 23,457 (ArchCity Defenders, 2014).

Yet Ferguson and Pine Lawn are not outliers—ArchCity Defenders estimates that more than half the courts in St. Louis County use these same practices (ArchCity Defenders, 2014).

Jailing Nonviolent Offenders Can Wreck Lives

When someone is jailed for failure to pay tickets, the justice system has not removed a dangerous criminal from the streets. In many cases, it has simply removed a poor person from the streets.

In these cases, the justice system also removes that poor person from their family, from their community, and in many cases, from their job. These sentences can have long-lasting, widely-felt consequences, none of which directly impact community safety.

Being put in jail for failing to pay a ticket for expired license plates may seem extreme on its own. But when added to the reality of why people often fail to pay those tickets—that they are low-income workers struggling to make ends meet and take care of a family with wages from an hourly job—it can become tragic.

When jail time results in three or four days of missed work, it can result in the loss of employment, making it even more difficult to pay mounting fines and consequently to find another job. A three or four day absence from the home can add further strain and stress on a parent struggling to be present for their children, and can result in trauma for children who can’t understand why a parent was taken away.

This disproportionate judicial response is not effective for ensuring community safety, establishing trust in the courts, or maintaining justice.

Addressing Inequity through Community Justice Centers

In addition to reforming these sentencing practices, the calls to action in this signature priority also aim to establish community justice centers to help citizens navigate the justice system and to ensure that citizens are treated fairly.

The aim of a community justice center is to improve community engagement and decrease interactions with the court. Community justice centers can provide citizens with case management and social work services, offer citizens limited legal advice to help them avoid future violations, and connect people to organizations that can help them address a variety of issues, including insurance, housing, employment, mental health, and credit counseling—issues that are often behind traffic and other municipal violations.

Community justice centers can also help resolve community disputes; bring together law enforcement, community organizations, and community members to address pressing community issues; and can open up a broad range of alternative sentencing options for judges and prosecutors, including community service, community restitution, community mediation, and access to social services.


Calls to Action

Eliminate Incarceration for Minor Offenses

Municipal courts shall not incarcerate individuals for minor, nonviolent offenses. They should also not issue “failure to appear” warrants on such charges, as these often lead to incarceration.

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Treat Nonviolent Offenses as Civil Violations

Municipalities shall treat minor nonviolent offenses as civil violations rather than criminal cases.

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Establish Alternative Sentences Options

Municipal courts shall establish effective alternatives to jail time, fines, and fees for violations of municipal ordinances, including payment plans and community service.  

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Create Community Justice Centers

We strongly recommend that municipalities institute some form of community justice center that operates in conjunction with the municipal court for individuals charged with traffic violations and other types of violations who are unable to pay or otherwise in need. This community-based, municipal justice approach could include case management and social work services, providing judges…

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Collect Municipal Court Debts Like Civil Debts

Municipal courts shall collect debts in a manner consistent with other civil debts.

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  1. ArchCity Defenders. (2014). Municipal Courts White Paper. Retrieved from
  2. United States Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division. (2015). Investigation of the Ferguson Police Department. Retrieved from

Constitutional Rights

A fair and just court system rests on a foundation of constitutional rights. The United States Constitution is clear about these rights.

The Fifth Amendment states that, “No person shall be … deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law …”

The Sixth Amendment states that, “In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed … and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.”

The Fourteenth Amendment again emphasizes the importance of due process, this time at the state level, stating that, “No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

St. Louis municipal courts have been noted for detaining defendants for excessive periods of time without due process, for holding defendants for their inability to pay fines and fees, for failure to inform defendants that they have the right to counsel (which has led to unrepresented defendants entering guilty pleas without knowing of their right to counsel), and for failure to assign counsel to minors charged with crimes (ArchCity Defenders, 2014, and United States Department of Justice, 2015).

It is the duty of the courts to uphold the Constitution, meaning it is also the duty of the courts to make defendants aware of their right to counsel, to assign public defenders to criminally-charged minors, and to ensure that all defendants receive due process.


Calls to Action

Train Municipal Court, Jail, and City Government Employees in Constitutional Rights

All municipal court, jail, and city government employees shall receive annual cultural bias training and training on how to protect the constitutional rights of residents and defendants, and how to effectively administer courts. Each employee must sign a written acknowledgement upon completion of training. This training shall ensure that personnel adequately understand that the following…

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Inform Defendants of Right to Counsel

Municipal courts shall inform all defendants of their right to counsel and must obtain an informed waiver if defendants choose to proceed pro se. If a defendant requests counsel but cannot afford representation, the court shall appoint an attorney when constitutionally or statutorily required. Municipal courts shall provide attorneys for all minors and in additional…

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Assign Public Defenders for Criminally-Charged Minors

Minors charged with a criminal offense with jail as a potential sentence shall be assigned a public defender

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  1. ArchCity Defenders. (2014). Municipal Courts White Paper. Retrieved from
  2. United States Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division. (2015). Investigation of the Ferguson Police Department. Retrieved from

Conflict of Interest

In Missouri’s 21st Judicial Circuit municipal court system, attorneys serve multiple roles across multiple jurisdictions:as prosecutor in one municipality and judge in a neighboring one; as judge in multiple municipalities and private attorney in others; as prosecutor in multiple municipalities and private attorney in others; and as a city attorney and prosecutor for the same municipality.

Data compiled in March 2015 by St. Louis Public Radio showed that “three St. Louis-area firms provide prosecutors or judges for more than a quarter of the county’s municipal courts, from Bel Nor to Valley Park” (Bouscaren, 2015).

Of the 83 municipalities in the St. Louis area, all but 14 had at least one connection to another municipality, where a “connection” is “sharing a judge or prosecutor, or having a judge or prosecutor who works for the same law firm as a judge or prosecutor in another municipality” (Bouscaren, 2015).

The National Prosecution Standards of the National District Attorneys Association state that, “Part-time prosecutors should not represent persons in criminal matters in other jurisdictions” (National District Attorneys Association, 2009).

At a time when trust in the municipal court system is low, and the fairness of the municipal courts is in doubt, the perception of conflicts of interest invited by the current practices undermines the legitimacy of the municipal courts and causes citizens to question whether justice is being consistently served.

The Commission’s recommendations aim to increase transparency and accountability by ending these practices and preventing potential conflicts of interest in the municipal court system.


Calls to Action

Prevent Conflicts of Interest Among Judges

Municipal judges shall be prohibited from engaging in municipal court practice in the county in which they serve as a municipal judge.  

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Prevent Conflicts of Interest Among Prosecutors

Municipal prosecutors shall be prohibited from representing criminal defendants in municipal courts within the county in which they serve as a prosecutor.

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  1. Bouscaren, D. (2015). Overlapping judges, prosecutors weave tangled web in St. Louis County municipal courts. St. Louis Public Radio. Retrieved from https://news.stlpublicradio. org/post/overlapping-judges-prosecutors-weave-tangled- web-st-louis-county-municipal-courts
  2. National District Attorneys Association. (2009). National prosecution standards, Third Edition. Retrieved from https:// w%20Revised%20Commentary.pdf


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According to a report called “The Making of Ferguson,” when the Black population grew in areas of St. Louis decades ago, White people began to leave and property values began to fall (Rothstein, 2014). Called ‘White Flight,’ this is an established pattern of migration witnessed across the country. The little towns that are left today throughout the St. Louis region are largely Black, and many of them have problems with budgets because of their small sizes (Better Together St. Louis, 2014).

St. Louis County has 81 different municipal courts. St. Louis County has 60 separate municipal police departments.

These small municipalities often turn to their traffic cops and municipal courts in order to generate the revenue needed to balance their budgets (Better Together, 2014). According to the data collected by Better Together, three municipalities—Vinita Terrace (population 277), Calverton Park (population 1,293), and Pine Lawn (population 3,275)—received 51.83 percent, 66.32 percent, and 48.12 percent of their municipal revenue from their courts’ fines and fees collection respectively (Better Together St. Louis, 2014). Vinita Terrace is 72.92 percent Black, Calverton Park is 42.23 percent Black, and Pine Lawn is 96.40 percent Black (Better Together St. Louis, 2014).

Webster Groves, on the other hand, has a population of 22,995, is 89.9 percent White, and the amount of money the municipality generates from court fines and fees is only seven percent of their overall revenue (Better Together St. Louis, 2014).

Many things unite the St. Louis region. But when it comes to municipal courts and law enforcement agencies, St. Louis is fragmented. And these numbers reveal just one of the ways the current state of municipal fragmentation is both a result of and a propagator of racial disparity.

St. Louis County has 81 different municipal courts. St. Louis County has 60 separate municipal police departments.

Our findings are that this fragmentation of courts and police departments is not only costly and a grossly inefficient use of taxpayer resources, but more importantly presents as an impediment to justice for many of our region’s citizens.

The Consequences of Court Fragmentation

Because municipalities operate many small courts, some courts have a lack of time and space, inadequate facilities, insufficient resources and processes for accurate record keeping, and lack the resources to provide their key personnel training beyond the basics.

Many of the 81 municipalities with courts are small, and none is large enough to hold court on a daily basis (ArchCity Defenders, 2014). Some, such as the municipality of Dellwood, only meet once a month. This means that citizens who have been arrested on a warrant and are unable to pay the bond can spend weeks in jail waiting to see a judge (ArchCity Defenders, 2014).

Because no municipal court meets daily, judges and prosecutors are necessarily part-time. But as discussed in the section on court reform, part-time judges and prosecutors often serve in multiple roles in multiple districts, creating the potential for—and perception of— conflicts of interest. Consolidated, full-time courts would eliminate this issue as well.

Managing and administering 81 municipal courts brings with it challenges that can impede the swift implementation of improvements. The average judicial circuit in Missouri oversees 8.6 municipal court divisions (Better Together, 2014). By comparison, the St. Louis County circuit oversees 81 municipal courts (Better Together, 2014). The presiding judge of the St. Louis County circuit oversees on the order of ten times as many courts as the average presiding judge in the state (Better Together, 2014).

Though these courts are under-resourced, in 2013, operating all 81 municipal courts in St. Louis County still cost more than $15.8 million. One projection shows that if these courts were consolidated into four full-time professional courts, the estimated costs would drop to between $6 million and $8 million a year (ArchCity Defenders, 2015).

Creating larger, better staffed courts could save money by leveraging shared resources and could raise public confidence in the effectiveness and efficiency of the courts by creating consistent procedures.

The Consequences of Police Fragmentation

Municipal police departments in St. Louis County range from the tiny (Bella Vista, Bel-Nor, and Flordell Hills Police Departments each have only five officers) to the mid-sized (Chesterfield and Florissant each have approximately 90 officers). All municipal police departments are dwarfed by the St. Louis County Police Department, which has almost 850 sworn officers, and the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department, which has more than 1,200 sworn officers. Many of the smaller agencies rely on larger agencies for a range of services, including dispatch, detention, investigations, and crime scene processing (Police Executive Research Forum, 2015).

This fragmentation of departments and services creates inefficiencies. Though some services are shared, the costs for items like vehicles and equipment fall on each department, preventing smaller municipalities from taking advantage of economies of scale.

Fragmented emergency dispatch centers not only lead to inflated costs, they also affect public safety. At a town hall meeting conducted by the Police Executive Research Forum in January 2015, a resident of unincorporated St. Louis County explained that when she calls the police, it may take over 20 minutes for county police to respond. “It doesn’t make any sense,” she said. “I live right next to the Eureka Police Department. Why can’t they just respond?” Another meeting participant shared that he had tried to report an apparently drunk driver he observed on the road, but kept getting transferred from one dispatch center to another, or told to call another department, because the drunk driver kept passing through different municipalities (Police Executive Research Forum, 2015).

This fragmentation also has the potential to lead to citizen harassment. For example, on a “busy 10-mile stretch of Route 115 (also known as Natural Bridge Road) [that] crosses through 16 different municipalities […] a motorist with a traffic violation such as expired license plates could get pulled over for the same violation in multiple jurisdictions on a single trip” (Police Executive Research Forum, 2015). In situations like this, police officers following the orders of their municipal leadership bear the brunt of citizen resentment.

Finally, and perhaps most crucially, fragmentation also gets in the way of cooperation. As stated by St. Louis County Police Chief John Belmar, “It is not realistic for my agency to have close relationships with five dozen different departments. Inter-agency coordination and cooperation—from everyday policing to major investigations and events—would be much easier if there were a more manageable number of municipal departments” (Police Executive Research Forum, 2015).

There will undoubtedly be logistical challenges involved with consolidating municipal courts and police departments. However, for the sake of the region, the Ferguson Commission recommends prioritizing consolidation of these two critical pieces of the justice system in pursuit of justice for all.

Calls to Action

Consolidate Municipal Courts

The Missouri Supreme Court shall take direct jurisdiction of municipal court functions through the associate circuit court and consolidate into an appropriate number the municipal courts for the purpose of the efficient administration of justice.  

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Consolidate Law Enforcement Agencies

Law enforcement agencies across the St. Louis region shall consolidate contiguous jurisdictions. For the purpose of the consolidation process, the agencies shall designate anchor departments through an evaluation process which determines the department that best aligns with the vision for policing in the St. Louis region described by the Commission. Consolidation clusters may include those…

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  1. ArchCity Defenders. (2014). Municipal courts white paper. Retrieved from wp-content/uploads/2014/08/ArchCity-Defenders- Municipal-Courts-Whitepaper.pdf
  2. ArchCity Defenders. (2015). It’s not just ferguson:Missouri supreme court should consolidate the municipal court system. Retrieved from:https://www.archcitydefenders. org/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/Its-Not-Just-Ferguson- Consolidate-the-Municipal-Courts.pdf
  3. Better Together St. Louis. (2014). Municipal courts report. Retrieved from content/uploads/2014/10/BT-Municipal-Courts-Report- Full-Report1.pdf
  4. Police Executive Research Forum. (2015). Overcoming the challenges and creating a regional approach to policing in St. Louis City and County. Retrieved from https://www.
  5. Rothstein, R. (2014). The making of Ferguson:Public policies at the root of its troubles. Economic Policy Institute. Retrieved from:


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Racial Equity Lens Assessment

As the overarching theme in the report, racial equity is at the heart of many of our calls to action. The calls in this section address intentional investments and practices aimed to build infrastructure and connective tissue for racial equity for work in the St. Louis region.

Signature Calls to ActionIndicators
 Assign Attorney General to serve as Special Prosecutor in Use of Force Investigations;

Assign MO Highway Patrol to Investigate Critical Use of Force;

Update Use of Force Statute to Reflect Tennessee vs. Garner;

Establish Use of Force Data- base;

Revise Policies and Training on Use of Force

  • 50 percent of those killed in the U.S. by police are minorities. Minorities make up about 37 percent of the population (The Guardian, 2015).
  • 60 percent of minorities killed by police in the U.S. were unarmed (The Guardian, 2015).
 Include Social Interaction Training in POST;

Increase Police Training Hours

  • 37 percent of Black Americans have a great deal of trust in police, compared to 59 percent of White Americans (Newport, 2014).
  • 45 percent of Black Americans say police officers have high or very high levels of honesty and ethics, compared to 59 percent of White Americans (Newport, 2014).
Include Implicit Bias and Cultural Responsiveness Training in POST
  • In Missouri, Black motorists are 75 percent more likely than White motorists to be stopped in traffic stops (Koster, 2014).
  • In Missouri, Black and Hispanic residents are more than 70 percent more likely to be searched, and 90 percent more likely to be arrested (Koster, 2014).
 Municipality and County Civilian Oversight Boards
  • The City of St. Louis and 15 municipalities in St. Louis County have a disparity index (where Disparity index = (proportion of stops / proportion of population. A value of 1 represents no disparity; values greater than 1 indicate over-representation; values less than 1 indicate under-representation) that exceeds 5.0. Statewide, the disparity index is 1.59 (Koster, 2014).
 Enhance Police Department Demonstration Procedures and Protocols
  • No Data Indicators Currently Identified
 Consolidate Police Training Centers
  • No Data Indicators Currently Identified
 Consolidate Law Enforcement Agencies
  • No Data Indicators Currently Identified
 Incarceration and Alternative Sentencing
  • In the US in 2011, the rate of juvenile placement in residential correction facilities for Black males was 733 per 100,000, for White males it was 153 per 100,000 (Nation- al Center for Education Statistics, 2015).
  • In MO in 2014, 36 percent of the 31,942 incarcerated offenders in the state were Black (Missouri Department of Correction, 2014).
  • In MO in 2014, 26.6 percent of the 62,429 offenders on probation or parole in the state were Black (Missouri Department of Correction, 2014).
 Treat Nonviolent Offenses as Civil Violations
  • In Ferguson in 2015, Black residents were 68 percent less likely than others to have their cases dismissed by the municipal judge (United States Department of Justice, 2015).
  • In Ferguson in 2013, African Americans were at least 50 percent more likely to have their cases lead to an arrest warrant (US Department of Justice, 2015).
  • In Ferguson in 2013, Black residents accounted for 92 percent of cases in which an arrest warrant was issued (US Department of Justice, 2015).
Train Municipal, Jail, and City Government Employees in Constitutional Rights
  • In Ferguson in 2015, Black citizens accounted for:
    • 95 percent of Manner of Walking charges
    • 94 percent of all Fail to Comply charges
    • 92 percent of all Resisting Arrest charges
    • 92 percent of all Peace Disturbance charges
    • 89 percent of all Failure to Obey charges (US Department of Justice, 2015)
 Consolidate Municipal Courts
  • Whereas 24 percent of St. Louis County identify as African-American, 62 percent of residents in the twen- ty-one municipalities relying most disproportionately on court fines and fees identify as African-American (Better Together, 2014).
 Establish Community Justice Centers
  •  No Data Indicators Currently Identified
Inform Defendants of Right to Counsel
  •  No Data Indicators Currently Identified
 Assign Public Defenders for Criminally-Charged Minors
  •  No Data Indicators Currently Identified
 Prevent Conflict of Interest Among Judges
  •  No Data Indicators Currently Identified
Prevent Conflict of Interest Among Prosecutors
  •  No Data Indicators Currently Identified


  1. Better Together. (2014). Public safety – municipal courts. Retrieved from uploads/2014/10/BT-Municipal-Courts-Report-Full- Report1.pdf
  2. The Guardian. (2015). The counted:People killed by police in the US. Retrieved from news/ng-interactive/2015/jun/01/the-counted-map-us-police-killings.
  3. Koster, Chris. (2014). 2014 annual report-traffic stops. Office of the Attorney General. Retrieved from: default-source/public-safety/2014vehiclesstops-executivesummary.pdf?sfvrsn=2
  4. Missouri Department of Correction. (2014). Annual report 2014. Retrieved from publications/AR2014.pdf
  5. National Center for Education Statistics. (2015). The Condition of Education 2015. US Department of Education. Retrieved from
  6. Newport, F. 2014. Gallup review:Black and White attitudes toward police:Criminal justice system viewed skeptically by Blacks. Gallup. Retrieved from aspx
  7. United States Department of Justice. (2015). Investigation of the Ferguson Police Department. Washington, DC:US Government Printing Office. Retrieved from releases/ attachments/2015/03/04/ferguson_police_department_report.pdf

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