St. Louis police review board hearing cut short over scuffle

ST. LOUIS (AP) — The first public discussion about a proposed civilian police oversight board in St. Louis was cut short after a commotion broke out in the crowd.

The Board of Alderman’s public safety committee held a hearing on the proposal Wednesday night at City Hall, where police officers and residents were packed shoulder-to-shoulder in the room. When several officers began to testify against the bill, the crowd became unsettled and noise in the room grew louder, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and KDSK-TV.

The committee chairman, Alderman Terry Kennedy, struggled to keep order, prompting Jeff Roorda, business manager of the city’s police union, to stand up and call for calm.

The crowded room then grew louder, the newspaper reported. Some in the audience began yelling, pushing and shoving as officers tried to maintain control. The commotion lasted for about 15 minutes, and the meeting ended shortly after order was restored. No one was arrested or appeared seriously injured.

“A good situation went bad,” Alderman Jeffrey Boyd said. “I’m disappointed we didn’t get through this.”

The committee had not been expected to vote on the police review board proposal, which was put forward after the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown, who was unarmed when killed by a police officer in Ferguson in August, and two other police killings in nearby St. Louis.

Alderman Joe Vaccaro told the newspaper that the situation Wednesday night highlighted the city’s “deep divisions.” Kennedy said the hearing achieved its purpose in gathering public input about the proposal.

“This isn’t easy,” Kennedy said. “There will be disagreements. These things have simmered for a long time.”

Kennedy said he was unsure if he’d have another public hearing or when the proposal would come up for a final vote.

Supporters say civilians should have a voice in policing and be able to hold officers accountable for misconduct. Opponents say a board would create more bureaucracy and prevent officers from doing their jobs.

Civilian oversight boards of police exist in more than 100 cities, according to the National Association for Civilian Oversight of Police.

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Information from: St. Louis Post-Dispatch, http://www.stltoday.com

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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