Former St. Louis police officer talks about benefits of citizen oversight

Thursday, March 20, 2008 | 10:46 p.m. CDT; updated 9:30 p.m. CDT, Friday, July 18, 2008

COLUMBIA — Former St. Louis police Officer Redditt Hudson likens wearing a police badge to the movie “The Mask.”

The symbol of authority amplifies officers’ personalities exponentially, whether they are looking to enforce the law fairly or abuse their power, he said.

Hudson gave a passionate speech about the need for civilian review at a meeting of the Mid-Missouri Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union on Thursday at the Blue Note. Hudson later addressed the Citizen Oversight Committee at its second public hearing at Oakland Junior High.

At the ACLU meeting, Hudson drew from his experience as an officer to support his opinion that law enforcement agencies should implement an independent civilian review board to review police procedure and policy. Hudson said he believes that officers should be held accountable for their actions within the community they are sworn to protect.

“I don’t care if you have a badge and a gun or a gang-rag and a gun,” Hudson said. “When you come to our community you should be held accountable.”

Hudson, who is now the Racial Justice Director of the ACLU’s office in St. Louis, left the police force after he said he became disillusioned with the criminal justice system and internal structures within the department that allowed police to sometimes abuse their authority.

“The uniform does not place you above the law you are enforcing,” he said.

At the Citizen Oversight Committee public hearing at Oakland Junior High, Hudson said that creating structured independent civilian review would help restore trust between the community and the police.

“He is a compelling speaker,” said Jeff Williams, the Citizen Oversight Committee co-chair. “When someone with his experience provides this kind of testimony it’s compelling. It’s important input.”

At the public hearing, citizens were given the opportunity to voice their opinions and experiences with the Columbia Police Department. Everyone who spoke supported the creation of a citizen review board and most had concerns over the police department’s lack of transparency and responsiveness to the community.

Steve Tubbesing, owner of the Columbia construction company D.A.S. Services, moved to Columbia from St. Louis on June 1, 1994. Tubbesing, who says he comes from a family of law enforcement, has had several experiences with the Columbia Police Department, some positive and some negative. One of the major concerns he voiced dealt with the ineffectiveness of filing complaints with the police department.

“Filing a complaint with the police department won’t get you anywhere,” Tubbesing said.

Hudson also addressed questions raised by committee members about whether there would still be a need for civilian review since the Columbia Police Department has overhauled their internal affairs processes and implemented a Professional Standards Unit to handle community complaints. Hudson appreciated the fact that the police department was addressing problems internally but said that citizen oversight was far more effective in addressing citizens’ complaints.

“The internal complaint process is ineffective in reprimanding police,” Hudson said. “The internal affairs process is ineffectual and ineffective.”

The Citizen Oversight Committee will submit its findings and recommendations to City Council in August.

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