April 20, 2018

Department of Justice investigates Kirkwood relations, leaves residents dissatisfied

Members of a community reformation team said they did not seen the changes they expected almost 10 years after the United States Government stepped in to help relieve community tensions.

The Community Relations Service branch of the Department of Justice (DOJ) arrived in Kirkwood a couple weeks following the city hall shooting. People in the black community were adamant about bringing them in to help broker issues within the community.

The city welcomed the DOJ as a mediator. They held their first meeting Feb. 28, 2008.

Two groups made up the mediation team. Seven people comprised the Community Team of Kirkwood, ranging from community leaders to involved citizens. The City Team of Kirkwood consisted of five people, all within the City of Kirkwood’s government.

Cynthia Isaac is a Kirkwood citizen on the Community Team. She lived in Meacham Park until third grade and has since straddled the neighborhood’s dividing line.

“There were a lot of mostly Caucasian people who were shocked that there was a racial problem,” Isaac said.

Isaac noticed many people outside of the two teams that should have benefitted from the Mediation Agreement, but she has seen no real change in the last 10 years. Pastor David Bennett also helped on the Community Team. He agrees that through these meetings, people on the City Team were able to see and acknowledge a racial problem in Kirkwood. Even so, they believed not much change was seen outside of that inner circle.

Former Chief of Police Jack Plummer, of the City Team, worked with Isaac to look into the Kirkwood Police Department. Isaac helped develop an automated citizen complaint program. Citizens could call anonymously and leave complaints or tips to Kirkwood Police. She aided in a trial run before the finalization of the new program.

Plummer petitioned against the program until its termination. He felt the DOJ’s mediation tactics were for situations of police brutality, not Kirkwood’s circumstance.

“I had three officers killed and several city officials killed, and we did not get those complaints,” Plummer said. “To me, to have a review board when our people were the ones being killed would’ve been a slap in the face to the officers.”

Plummer believed the Kirkwood Police were already a couple steps ahead of the rest of the country in its hiring practices. He said Kirkwood Police made a conscious effort to hire minority officers and help develop their careers.

The mediation meetings occurred about every other week for five months. Each one required a DOJ official present. They held the meetings in churches and schools in Meacham Park and downtown Kirkwood.

“Sometimes those meetings got heated because people didn’t understand each other, and we had to work through it, to talk through it,” Isaac said.

The Community Team decided what issues needed to be discussed. They compiled a list of all the complaints and concerns reported in Kirkwood.

Bennett facilitated the organization of the group and helped break the Mediation Agreement down into three main points: the reformation of the Human Rights Commission, dealing with issues from the annexation of Meacham Park and policing issues in Kirkwood. The two teams finalized the Mediation Agreement Jan. 22, 2010.

Colin Gordon wrote “Mapping Decline: St. Louis and the Fate of the American City.” His research into the DOJ’s involvement confirmed his belief that they could not accomplish anything while in Kirkwood.

“The Justice Department person was in town for six months and left with their tail between their legs,” Gordon said. “It was like the worst situation they’d ever seen.”

The Mediation Agreement focused on 14 programs already established in the Kirkwood Police Department, and proposed seven new programs. Some of these new programs were never adopted.

Plummer had the task of implementing changes after the meetings finished. He said the progression was smooth because many of the programs talked about were already used in the police department.

“Quite frankly, I didn’t really think there was any instructive role for the Department of Justice,” Plummer said. “There’s not a whole lot for them to tell us when we’re not the ones shooting people.”

Plummer and Isaac believe the honest dialogue generated from the meetings was a big step in the right direction. Now they want to see the discussed changes implemented in the community.

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