Police Chief John Hayden.
For months, activist Phillip Weeks has been systematically gathering St. Louis police policies and procedures. His initial request under the state's Sunshine law seeking a complete list of policies, manuals and special orders was denied as too burdensome. But by breaking it into smaller requests, he's been able to get most of what he wanted.
Weeks has begun posting the information online under the rubric of an organization he founded called Gram, an acronym for GRassroots Accountability Movement
. On Monday, the RFT
published a story about his efforts: "St. Louis Police Policies Are Going Up Online, Whether SLMPD Is Ready or Not
Turns out, the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department is decidedly in the "not ready" camp. On the very day our story was published, Police Chief John Hayden sent a department-wide email making it clear he had "grave" concerns about the information's publication.
"Today, it was brought to my attention that the Police Section of the City Counselor's Office improperly released un-redacted policies and procedures outlined in our Special Orders and Police Manual, as a result of a Sunshine Request. This information is now posted in an article in the Riverfront Times
. As you know, some of this procedural information would include tactical responses to certain types of incidents; thus making this release of information an officer-safety concern," Hayden wrote.
The new chief added, ominously, "We are currently working with the Police Section of the City Counselor's Office to determine what remedial legal action can be taken with respect to this release."
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported on the department-wide email on Monday night
— and its story, bizarrely, is how Weeks (and the RFT
) first learned that his project was drawing pushback. Also bizarrely, the daily appears to have made no effort to contact him; he first heard about the Post-Dispatch
story, and the chief's concerns, after the story had already gone live.
Soon after that, KMOV came knocking on his door — and while he wasn't necessarily thrilled to find a TV news reporter on his doorstep, he was relieved that at least it wasn't the police. Learning you might be a part of "remedial legal action" in the pages of the city's daily is a bit unnerving, to say the least.
For Weeks, the whole thing has been bizarre. As a department spokesman confirmed to the RFT
yesterday, no one is alleging Weeks did anything other than post materials he was given by the department — materials that, as he points out, did include some redactions. It's not like they just handed him the keys to the police department's inner workings.
Says Spokeswoman Schron Jackson, "Mr. Weeks obtained the information through the correct process, the Sunshine Law process. However, he received un-redacted documents containing tactical procedures which is an officer safety concern."
But if that's the case, Weeks wonders, why not just contact him?
"Instead of the chief putting out a department-wide email saying this is a serious breach, it would have been much swifter to contact me," he says. It's not like they don't know how to find him. In addition to the contact info he supplied on his various Sunshine requests, he notes, after getting the information, he met with various department officials for an hour and a half. He's also been trying to make an appointment to see the chief himself.
"If it's that much of a concern, why not talk to me first?" he asks. "Why advertise the story about what I'm doing?"
A member of the area's activist community, Weeks has participated in protests — and been arrested for it. But he's hardly the image of a wild-eyed protester dreamed up by FoxNews types. After he was hit by a hit-and-run driver at a protest in Ferguson in 2016
, Weeks, then 52, painted himself as an ally of the movement moved by injustice. "I'm a normal person who just said, 'This is not tolerable,'" he told us then.
Now that the department has put his effort on blast, Weeks is taking a similarly low-key approach. He's posted a response to the Post-Dispatch story on his website
, but you have to go looking for it — and when you do, you won't find fighting words, just an explanation of his position.
"If the motivation and concern of the department was to have some of the published documents replaced with properly redacted documents, then the SLMPD could have requested a meeting with me as they have in the past to discuss my open records requests," the statement says. "This would have allowed GRAM to consider their request and consult with other experts in law enforcement about the concerns of the SLMPD. Without knowing the specific details GRAM cannot make an informed decision or address the concerns of the department."
Weeks says he'd still be open to that conversation, even now. But he also makes it clear that he's not about to just take down the materials he put up. He says he'd consult experts on whether any recommended further redactions are necessary; if they agree with the chief, he says, he might well too.
But until then, he's standing by his website — and likely seeing a bit of an uptick in traffic to it.
"All these other departments around the country have published their policies online," he says. "It was their responsibility to redact whatever they saw necessary to redact."
Sarah Fenske is the editor in chief of the Riverfront Times. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @sarahfenske
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