CLAYTON — St. Louis County, after a two-year delay, has officially recognized the Ethical Society of Police, an organization formed in 1972 to represent minority police officers and fight race-based discrimination.
County Executive Sam Page signed a memorandum of understanding with the organization on Monday. The group, known as ESOP, can now represent its 65 members during internal investigations and have regular meetings with county officials. Previously, ESOP had been recognized only by the city of St. Louis.
“We are trying to improve the lives of the people of our community and our police departments, but to do that we must have a voice. We must have a say at the table,” Sgt. Heather Taylor, president of ESOP and a detective with the St. Louis police department, said Monday during a news conference.
The announcement comes at a critical time for the department. The country is roiled by protests following the death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer. Protesters have clashed with police here, too, on several nights this month. At the same time, Page is up for re-election, and the new county police chief recently denied the existence of systemic racism in her department.
ESOP has been waiting for county approval for years. At one point, the county refused to sign the agreement, said ESOP attorney William Dailey, because it said ESOP’s mission was to address “race-based discrimination” within the community and area police departments.
“We were told to take out the very essence of what we stand for,” Dailey said.
Officer Shanette Hall, an ESOP St. Louis County chapter board member, said that Page signed the agreement only after ESOP announced its Monday press conference.
A spokesman for Page declined to comment on the negotiations but said that Page is excited that ESOP will have a larger voice now.
Page said in a statement Monday that systemic racism is the biggest challenge facing St. Louis County. “As county executive, I’ve insisted that all policy decisions be made through a lens of equity, and that diverse voices are at the table when we make those decisions,” he said.
St. Louis County police Chief Mary Barton recently denied the existence of systemic racism in the police department. Two council members then questioned whether Barton could effectively lead the department.
ESOP has asked Barton, County Council Chairwoman Lisa Clancy, and retired judge William Ray Price Jr., chairman of the St. Louis County Board of Police Commissioners, to sign a copy of the agreement. Page’s signature ratified the agreement, but ESOP says there must be an understanding with each official, especially Barton.
The county police board approved the formation of a “chief’s committee” earlier this month to promote coordination between Barton and nonsupervisory personnel. The committee includes representatives from the police union and different units and precincts, but not ESOP.
In a May 28 memo, Barton wrote that ESOP is not a recognized labor group, “and their participation in the committee may then lead to other groups wanting a seat.”
Taylor said she hopes the nonbinding memorandum of understanding will offer ESOP a formal communication outlet with the county police department.
“When we say there’s systemic racism, you’re witnessing it right now,” said Taylor. “We will sue, we will file EEOC complaints, we will do anything legal to make sure we are heard.”