On March 19, according to the Ethical Society of Police (ESOP), St. Louis Police Chief John Hayden issued a directive authorizing division commanders to order officers to continue routine, invasive policing during the COVID-19 pandemic at their discretion: “A commander has full discretion to allow self-initiated activity when warranted.”
This was when COVID-19, a deadly disease with no known cure that is spread through physical proximity and casual contact like exchanging a driver’s license and a traffic ticket, was spreading in the city and all over the news media. City public health officials were recommending that people avoid physical contact and remain six feet away from others, which you can’t do when pulling over motorists and writing traffic tickets.
According to ESOP, an association that advocates for racial and gender equity in police work, some of its leaders approached Hayden and advised the chief that allowing self-initiated activity in Traffic Safety in particular placed officers, other employees, and the public at unnecessary risk. And all for what? A traffic ticket.
“His decision to send a temporary directive allowing self-initiated activity was the wrong decision and put officers and citizens in harm's way,” ESOP claimed.
Days later, Hayden’s boss’ boss, St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson, ordered people in the city to stay at home and to stop going to all jobs that are not essential. Though the police remain an essential public service for maintaining public safety, under the circumstances, maybe writing traffic tickets was not essential. Yet ESOP claimed that the Traffic Safety commander ordered officers to continue routine traffic enforcement. ESOP claimed that officers in Traffic Safety repeatedly voiced their concerns with this decision, yet were ignored.
How many traffic tickets did St. Louis police officers in the Traffic Division write between the mayor’s issuance of the Stay at Home order on March 23 and March 27, when at least two of them tested positive for COVID-19?
Though asked repeatedly to report the number of citations issued by the Traffic Division during the first week of the mayor’s Stay at Home order, Sgt. Keith Barrett, a police spokesman, did not reply. Local civil rights attorney Chelsea Merta filed a Sunshine Law request for the information, partly on behalf of The St. Louis American. Amazingly, the police department replied that there are “no responsive records” – claiming it does not track the number of tickets its officers write.
ESOP broke the news that the Traffic Division of the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department was under quarantine after at least two supervisors in the division and one officer had tested positive for COVID-19 (and some other front-line officers are beginning to exhibit symptoms of the disease) on Saturday, March 28.
Asked to comment, the same police spokesman said, “We do not discuss the health status of our employees.” Asked again, without divulging any personal health information, whether the Traffic Division was under quarantine, the police spokesman did not reply.
As the story continued to gain momentum on Saturday, a spokesman for Krewson finally confirmed that two city employees had tested positive for COVID-19 and other city employees were “under self-quarantine” and “being monitored intently,” which in essence confirmed the ESOP’s claims.
The police spokesman said department officers had been issued personal protective equipment, as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). ESOP disputed that claim. “There was a shortage of some personal protective equipment (PPE), some equipment was not approved PPE, or simply unavailable until recently,” ESOP claimed.
A police spokesman was invited to respond to these claims and stuck to his story: “Our citizens can expect to receive the same level of professional service from the men and women of the SLMPD with regards to life safety as they do every day.” For those who would claim that bungling a pandemic is just another day on the job for St. Louis police leadership, it appears the department itself cosigns on that.
The ESOP’s statement about the incident included guidance for the leadership of the city and police department: “We urge the City of St. Louis leadership, the chief of police, all command in SLMPD to adhere to the CDC guidelines with social distancing and warn the public and employees in SLMPD when an employee has been exposed to COVID-19 or tests positive.”
Sgt. Heather Taylor, president of ESOP, also made a more personal comment to The American, sounding more like a concerned colleague than a police accountability advocate: “I can say we would welcome your prayers.”
Post dogs Tishaura for pandemic protections
It’s common under these stressful pandemic conditions to hear people claim that things will never be the same. That remains to be seen. So far, one thing remains the same. The editorial board of the Post-Dispatch still has a vendetta against St. Louis Treasurer Tishaura O. Jones. The city coppers ordered to write traffic tickets during a plague in a city shut down by the mayor who runs the police department makes the Tod Robberson-era Post editorial board look unusually petty and misguided for this cheap shot.
The treasurer runs the city’s Parking Division, despite the best efforts of the Post, Krewson, City Counselor Julian Bush and Alderman Jeffrey Boyd to wrest it away from her. As the city began to come to grips with the pandemic hitting the region, on March 16 Jones announced her office would suspend ticketing people for parking infractions “to limit the spread of COVID-19.” This was three days before Krewson’s top cop would tell his commanders they could order routine, invasive policing such as writing traffic tickets and five days before Krewson would declare a Stay at Home order to address the pandemic.
What did Robberson and the gang at the Post say about the treasurer? Good, proactive governance? Good looking out? Thanks for trying to keep your staff and the public healthy?
No. “Regardless of the motive, where was her legal authority to make this unilateral declaration?” Robberson and the gang said, their dander all up. “Her spokesman, Benjamin Singer, was unable to cite a specific statute but asserted that ‘prosecutors, judges, police, etc. exercise discretion within their authority.’ Jones, he added, ‘has discretion, and these are extraordinary circumstances.’ Judges, police, mayors and, yes, even treasurers are bound by the laws as written. They might have the best of intentions, but the coronavirus outbreak is not a license for officials to do as they please.”
A public official should not go protecting city staff and the public from a pandemic? At least not if that official is Tishaura O. Jones. The treasurer, as the public must know, is both black and a woman. The Post editorial board, led by Robberson, includes (above him on the masthead) Ray Farris and Gilbert Bailon and below him Kevin McDermott, Aisha Sultan, Frank Reust and Dan Martin. That is zero black people on the Post editorial board and seven people who are not black. That is one woman and six men. That is where lack of diversity will get you – into petty, bigoted public vendettas with strong black women. Do better.
Hawley revives red menace
President Donald Trump calling the novel coronavirus “the Chinese virus” was picked up here in Missourah by Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft, who picked a fight with the province in China that first experienced the outbreak, calling it the “Wuhan virus.” This has now spread like a virus to some amusing red-baiting and chicken-hawkish sabre rattling in the Show Me (more COVID-19 corpses before I get all worked up over this thing) State.
U.S. Senator Josh Hawley (R-Missouri) is sponsoring a resolution “calling for an international investigation into the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) cover-up of the early spread of COVID-19,” Hawley’s office announced. Hawley, a former law professor sensitive to language, must have approved of that nice, alliterative acronym play, CCP and the COVID.
What’s ironic is this resolution could be rewritten to call for an investigation into the Trump administration’s mishandling of the pandemic. Quoting Professor Hawley: we must “quantify the harm caused, by the handling of the COVID–19 outbreak by the Government of the People’s Republic of China, to the health and economic well-being of the people of the United States and other nations; and design a mechanism for delivering compensation from the Government of the People’s Republic of China to all affected nations for the harm caused by its decision to hide the emergence and spread of COVID–19 ...” Just swap in “the Trump administration” for “the Government of the People’s Republic of China” and extend the timeline from the early months of the outbreak to the next time Trump opens his mouth, and you’ve got a resolution.
Republican action figure antics
Meanwhile, the former Polk County sheriff and cattle rancher who is Missouri governor is trying every action figure stunt – get me an emergency declaration now! Get me the National Guard! – when what he really needs to do is sit down, stay home, and tell everyone else in the state to stay home until the number of cases drops back to zero instead of rises every day. But Gov. Mike Parson, who is running for election as a Republican, still won’t do that.
His Democratic challenger Nicole Galloway challenged him to do so on Tuesday, saying, “A statewide stay-at-home order is necessary because we have a limited window to take steps that will lessen the surge on our healthcare system and that window is closing rapidly.
Had Peter Kinder stayed lieutenant governor instead of running for governor (and losing to Eric Greitens, the action figure, whose resignation called Parson up from the farm), then Kinder would be governor. And Missouri would be at war! With China! Or Wuhan!
“We MUST hold China responsible,” Kinder did his best Trump impersonation on the real Donald Trump’s favorite social medium on Tuesday. “They unleashed this #pandemic worldwide, lied about it, refused access 2 researchers.” Kinder is neither #ignorant nor #stupid; he knows that infectious diseases are not “unleashed.” So, who is he playing this act for? Why?