Heather Taylor has retired from the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department, where her terminal rank was sergeant, and is moving to Florida with her husband, Brian Taylor, where he has a job opportunity. She will take the LSAT in January with hopes to study law. But she is not quite retired from the Ethical Society of Police (ESOP), which she will serve as president until the group, which advocates for racial equity in law enforcement, holds elections. The St. Louis American spoke to her about law enforcement and opportunities for police reform.
The St. Louis American: We hear a lot of what Circuit Attorney Kimberly Gardner goes through. As a Black woman who stands up to the problems in law enforcement, are you comfortable talking about the sort of personal attacks that you've had to withstand?
Heather Taylor: If someone is voicing their displeasure with something that I've said, I understand that. We can all disagree. But when someone lies or someone accuses ESOP of doing something that we didn't do, those are the problems there. You can have your views. Not every member of Ethical agrees with me 100% of the time. We have officers that are members that I quite frankly I can't stand the sight of, but they have a right to be a member of Ethical.
The personal part of it, if you threaten me, you better be prepared for my wrath. There's nothing that I'm going to accept if you're threatening my life. I'm going to prosecute you. I'm going to fight with everything I have to defend my life from someone who's threatening me. That goes towards why we have cameras everywhere, cameras in my car. Sometimes people believe because you're a Democrat or because you're a woman that you aren't proficient at defending yourself.
Some of these right-wing nut jobs have this level of anger because you call something in law enforcement what it is. They have a level of anger with you. Some of them are really just nuts, and some of them are officers as well. I'm okay with criticism, I can take that. I’m not okay with lies or threats of violence towards me or harassment.
The St. Louis American: Let's imagine that Public Safety Director Jimmie Edwards calls you and says, "Heather, I see you're leaving St. Louis and the police department. I need your guidance. I'm listening. What do we need to do to make this police department better for Black officers and police leaders and better for the community?” What do you say?
Heather Taylor: Judge Edwards needs to listen, that's the first thing. He needs to listen and stop punishing personal disagreements and do his job as the person that oversees public safety matters. Stop with the politics, with Jeff Roorda and some others. Stop with all of the politics and start thinking about people and understand police policy.
A lot of times Judge Edwards talks out of turn, and he doesn't know. I've been at meetings where he's literally said where there were no white homicide victims. It was just very ridiculous. Now if he said that the overwhelming majority of homicide victims are African-American, he's absolutely right. But he didn't say that. Instead he told a church full of people, African Americans, that there were no white homicide victims.
Judge Edwards needs to know police policy before he starts talking. The arrogance with him is so overwhelming. A lot of times that he doesn't listen.
I remember when he first got the job, we were just ecstatic that he was going to be here, that there was a potential of someone to be fair, to listen. How wrong we were. We supported him in the beginning. We even met with him and tried to explain some things that were going on that we felt were corruption, and he didn't listen. The meeting was full of... it was just his aura. He wasn't listening. We're not here to agree with him and to bow down to him. But he a lot of times just doesn't listen.
Several things that he can do as the director of Public Safety. Anybody that wears a uniform, their name should be sewn into their jackets, should be sewn into their shirts. These things are important because people should be able to identify officers that they're talking to, readily, immediately identify who they are. That collective bargaining agreement should be dismantled. He should do that, even though he's friends with Jeff Roorda.
There should be clear, established policies in place for body-worn cameras for all officers, even undercover officers not in units like special ops. They're undercover but they're really not undercover. Everybody knows their cars in our communities. I know that because I worked undercover. After a while, your cars are all burned out, everybody knows who you are. If you're talking about deep undercover assignments, yeah, of course they shouldn't wear a body-worn camera because they could be exposed and it puts their lives are in jeopardy. However, units that are essentially jump-out boys, as we call them in the street, they should all have body-worn cameras.
Officer's discipline should be public. If he really wants to do something, him and the director of Personnel, make it public. There should be a Diversity Council. There isn't. We have nothing like that. And human resources is laughable when it comes to having diversity. There should be rotating district officers and detectives in specialized units so their officers all over gain experience as investigators within our police department. Yearly cultural competency training. There's just a number of things that they can do.
The St. Louis American:So, the St. Louis police department currently has no diversity body at all?
Heather Taylor: No diversity and inclusion unit, nothing like that. No. There is no working employee resource group, things like that. There should be a Diversity Council. You know we, Milton Green, Luther Hall, there are other lawsuits that have been settled with the city as well that involved African Americans that are pertinent. But we've done nothing. After all these major incidents, we've done nothing to ensure that we limit or prevent these things from happening again.
The St. Louis American:So you have more credibility with the protest community than any police officer that I know. I think they would listen to you if you gave them some advice. What if they said, “Sit down with us before you go to Florida and tell us what are we’re doing wrong. What could we do to be more effective to change police practices and behavior?”
Heather Taylor: I just talked to Darryl Gray yesterday, and we talked about just a whole bunch of policy and procedure things. I think the number one thing is that, of course, keep protesting. Keep ensuring that they're nonviolent, number one. Having protests are necessary, absolutely. Ensure that they are always nonviolent, that you weed out those among you who are there to harm others, which in turn can harm you.
Focus on policy and procedures. Focus, focus, focus. I appreciate the people like John Chasnoff, Phillip Weeks, and Darryl Gray who are involved in the policy and procedure part of it. Because you're not going to change police culture with just protesting alone. You have to change policy and procedures and the law. Getting involved like they have with the collective bargaining agreement. Getting involved with requesting Sunshine Law reports on officers; Phillip Weeks does that. Getting involved in creating a database like Phillip Weeks has created. These grassroots accountability efforts, they're so critical to keep doing that, and do more of that. That's really going to be most important when it comes to changing internal thought processes.
I think police departments know that there are going to be protests now. But when you get them, and you really effect change, it's when they see that you're involved in the collective bargaining agreement. They're not expecting that. We're not expecting activists to come together in the protest community and talk about police policies and procedures, to actually have these manuals, these orders and these temporary directives at their disposal, to challenge the police department in its own actions. Absolutely, to do more of that, as well.
As much as we protest, let's do these meetings. And not just to meet, but meetings about breaking down the collective bargaining agreements. Talking to officers like Ethical who are willing to talk to you. To go over these policies and procedures that need to be abolished that do more harm to the community, and legislation and things like that, that do more harm to the community.