Investigators and assistant prosecutors in the county of St. Louis recently voted to become members of the police union. The vote is taken at a time when a leader with reform in mind prepares to take control of the St. Louis County Prosecutors Office.
The vote happened on Monday and has raised concerns that a conflict of interest could develop.
Wesley Bell is the new County Prosecutor in St. Louis. He is the first person of African-American heritage to hold the position. Bell will replace Robert McCulloch, who was County prosecutor when a grand jury declined to indict officer Darren Wilson for the fatal shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.
The grand jury decision sparked violence among the citizens of Ferguson and protests across the country.
Bell stands in opposition to the death penalty and prefers treatment alternatives for individuals accused of minor drug offenses. He has also been on record promising reform to the cash bail system used in St. Louis County. Another major emphasis Bell expresses is holding police officers accountable for the actions they take while on duty.
The St. Louis Police Association is viewed by some as the most aggressive police union in America. The union regularly donated to the campaign efforts of McCulloch throughout his nearly three decades as County Prosecutor.
Jeff Roorda is the business manager for the union. Roorda caused a stir on social media a few years back when he used a Facebook platform to blame then president Barack Obama for the shooting of five police officers in Dallas, Texas. Roorda also made comments to the media suggesting the happenings in Ferguson amounted to a war being waged on police officers around the country. He also penned a book on the matter entitled Ferghanistan: The War On Police.
One potential conflict identified by the Washington Post is a scenario where a prosecutor files a criminal complaint against a police officer. If that officer then files a complaint with the union, which of the two union members will be backed by the union?
The Post also concluded that the vote to join the union by investigators and prosecutors can only serve to further worsen an already bad relationship between the police and the black community in St. Louis County.
Bell acknowledged that the choice by assistant prosecutors to join the police union raises questions but said he supports their right to join the union of their choice.
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