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A Letter from Mayor Sanger, 9/29/18

Publish Date:09/29/2018 2:54 PM
To the Clayton community,
 
As many of you have heard, just before 1:00 AM on July 7, the IHOP restaurant near the corner of Clayton Road and Brentwood Boulevard called Clayton Police dispatch to report that several patrons had just fled without paying their bill. Within a few minutes, Clayton Police stopped and questioned a group of ten young African Americans, some of whom had “to-go” food bags and who matched the clothing color, gender and race description of the four suspects provided by IHOP. It was determined that no one in this group had committed the theft from the IHOP and they were released without further delay. On July 10, the family of one member of this group filed a complaint with the Clayton Police regarding this incident, which prompted the now completed investigation.
 
The entire Board of Aldermen and I are fully committed to the principle that everyone who lives, works, or visits Clayton must be confident that they will be treated in a fair and equitable way and that the police who we entrust with our safety must have the proper tools, training, and public support to do a job that has never been more dangerous or complex.

With the facts of this encounter between police and a group of African American students now clear, it is up to our community to take what we have learned and move beyond the specifics of this incident. Although assumptions were made by many prior to the facts being known, the growing gap around the nation between police and their communities is also clear. The public reaction to this incident tells us that this gap is as real and persistent right here in Clayton as it is anywhere else, and for our part in the City of Clayton we are committed to finding a positive way forward together.
 
With that context, three sets of questions are raised by the July 7 incident and the subsequent complaint: 1) the on-site investigation about the “dine and dash” that night conducted by officers responding to a call for service from IHOP; 2) the investigation about the encounter between police and the group of young people (later determined to be Washington University students) that night, conducted in response to a complaint from the family of one of the people involved; and 3) the broader questions this incident raises about how to best align community expectations and safe police practices.

On-Site Investigation into Dine and Dash

The first set of questions are the easiest to answer. The students stopped this night were in no way related to the IHOP theft. This was quickly determined in the 12-minute encounter between the students, police, and the IHOP manager. At no time during the encounter were the names or identifiers of any of the students entered into or checked against any police or law enforcement data base.

Investigation into the Encounter Between Police and Students

The complaint regarding this incident filed by the family of one of the students prompted an investigation. The investigation included a review of the IHOP security video, dash camera video from the police cars involved, the audio of the call from IHOP, the police dispatch radio traffic, interviews with the officers involved, and interviews with the students willing to sit for interviews. Regarding the complaint and the following investigation:

Questions have been raised about why police initiated contact with these students and whether they were justified in doing so. The investigation found that:
 
1.     They were walking southbound on Brentwood Blvd., from the general area of the IHOP toward the general area of the MetroLink station, as described by IHOP.
2.    They were the only pedestrians visible on the street.
3.    Some of the ten students fit the description given by IHOP in the phone call and by the IHOP manager in person to the responding officer, of the four suspects, including some of their clothing, gender, and race.
4.    Some of them were carrying what appeared to be IHOP “to-go” food bags.
 
Given all these circumstances, the investigation found that initiating contact with this group was in keeping with policies and procedures.

The City asked 21st Century Policing Solutions (21CPS), nationally-recognized professionals, to conduct an independent review of the investigation and our police policies and procedures. 21CPS has a diverse team of experts, some of whom served on President Obama's 21st Century Task Force on Policing. Their national expertise in creating and employing best practices for effective, integrity-driven policing focuses on building trust, strengthening relationships, and community collaboration in public safety.
 
21CPS has reviewed the department policies and advised us of the benefits that body worn cameras would have brought to this situation as well as any other situation where there may be questions about interaction between the public and the police.  These cameras, while not the panacea for everything, give an objective perspective of the tenor of police/community interactions, and often serve as good training and educational tools when used in a scenario based training environment.  Clayton applied for police body cameras in 2017 and the Clayton Police Department will be implementing a body worn camera program next year.
 
Questions have been raised about why police required the students to walk back to the IHOP, trailed by police cars.
The investigation found that:

 1. The officers did not require or suggest that the students return to IHOP. The officer in command of the incident radioed requesting that another officer convey the IHOP manager to the location of the students at Brentwood Blvd. and Galleria Parkway for an identification.  On hearing this, at least one of the students offered that they would prefer to walk back to the restaurant, and the officers agreed. Our officers believed that walking back was the preference of the students. Had they believed otherwise, they would have continued with their original plan, and brought the manager to the students.

 2. As the students walked north on the west sidewalk along Brentwood, one Clayton Police car, not several cars, drove north on the east side of the street, at a distance of some 75 feet behind the students, with only its rear-facing hazard lights on for safety purposes.
 
Questions have been raised about why police did not offer to transport the students back to campus. The investigation found that:

1. Once back at the IHOP, the manager quickly said that none of the people in this group were the ones responsible for leaving without paying.

2. One of the officers returned the receipts that 3 of the 10 students had offered as proof of payment and thanked them for cooperating.

3. The officer in command waved from his car and thanked them for their cooperation as he left the scene.

4. The officers believed that, since only a few minutes had elapsed and since this group was not who they were looking for, the suspects might still be in the area. They did not offer any transportation to the students, who then walked back to campus.
 
It is also worth noting that neither the students nor the officers did anything to escalate the situation. The students were cooperative throughout and the officers thanked them for doing so. The officers did not search or touch the students in any manner.  The officers did not run the students’ information through any law enforcement databases or record their names.
 
All video and audio recordings regarding this investigation, as well as the timeline of events are posted to www.claytonmo.gov/findings.

Aligning Community Expectations and Safe Police Practices

The broader questions this incident raises are the most difficult and we have to face them directly.

The students did nothing in any way improper, either at IHOP or in the encounter with police, yet at least one of the families came away from the July 7 encounter with police believing they had been wronged by a system that had suspected them of a crime without good reason.

In addition to the facts of the encounter noted above, the perceptions and feelings of the encounter with officers by some of the students was real and palpable. Some were unsettled or angry about it, as were some in our community. The social and cultural divisions that plague us are a backdrop for these views and we will not dismiss them—in other words, the facts aren’t always so simple. So even though the facts show that officers did act in accordance with all policies, procedures, and the law in this encounter, we understand there are much bigger issues involved.
   
At the same time, the police, who the later investigation would show followed established policies and procedures during the encounter, felt wronged by elements of an early statement issued by the City, which incorrectly made judgments about their conduct before an investigation had been completed. It did a disservice to our officers, as it drew conclusions about their actions before the facts were known.

What Happens Now?

As I previously noted, the City took the extraordinary step of having 21CPS review the entire investigation, including a specific time line of events, to ensure that the department conducted a thorough and objective gathering and assessment of the facts. This review confirmed that the investigation was complete, thorough, and accurately reflected the facts of the encounter.
 
City leaders, police, and the community must all play a part in closing any gap in our community relationships. We are therefore taking a number of additional steps.
 
First, our engagement with 21CPS will allow us to make sure we are training and policing using modern and safe policies and procedures. All interactions between our police and the public matter, so having an independent look at our policies and procedures will be important going forward.
 
Second, the Board of Aldermen has committed to continuing important conversations regarding race and equity in our community and how these relate to all services the City provides. The public outreach around these conversations will begin in October 2018. This is an opportunity to bring key stakeholders together—the Clayton Police Department, the City of Clayton, Washington University and its students, the broader Clayton Community, as well as other regional stakeholders—to further process the issues underlying this incident, listen to each other, and determine specific strategies we can all take to ensure we have constructive relationships between the police department and all the diverse communities it serves.

The Outcomes We are Moving Toward

1. Improved relationship between the minority community –residents, students, and visitors—, the broader community and the police.

2. Clear steps that each of the key stakeholders can take to ensure a safe and welcoming environment for all people, regardless of race, color, religion, creed, gender identity, sex, sexual orientation, language, or age.

3. Identify specific steps that will allow the Police Department and the City to continue to further apply the principles of procedural justice, and constitutional policing.

4. Educate and engage the public to understand the specifics of law enforcement training, policies, procedures, and supervision that contribute to constitutional policing.

5. Identify what the community, including the Washington University community, can do to establish an authentic dialogue of listening and learning to determine how we can all work together for a better community environment.
 
I look forward to these discussions, to listening and learning, and to making our City stronger now and for future generations.

 

Sincerely,

Mayor Harold Sanger