The St. Louis County police have been under investigation for using racial profiling and targeting non-whites in traffic stops and other police sweeps.
The department has been the focus of nationwide attention this week as its aggressive response to demonstrations in Ferguson, Mo., has drawn criticism from President Barack Obama, civil rights advocates and community leaders. The St. Louis suburb has seen nightly demonstrations since Saturday, when unarmed, 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot and killed by Ferguson police.
Researchers from the Center for Policing Equity at the University of California-Los Angeles visited the St. Louis County police in May. The CPE is an academic consortium that lists its mission as promoting “police transparency and accountability” with a particular expertise in examining racial profiling and police use of force.
The UCLA team was invited by St. Louis County Police Chief Tim Fitch after a whistleblower accused Lt. Patrick “Rick” Hayes of ordering his officers to target African Americans or people with black or “tan” skin in area shopping centers in 2013.
In an investigation, nine officers corroborated the accusations. Hayes was fired in May 2013.
In January, the Missouri State Conference of the NAACP filed a federal civil rights complaint alleging racial profiling by the county police. The NAACP said a disproportionate number of St. Louis County police arrests were of African Americans, and that black officers on the force were more severely disciplined for misconduct than their white counterparts.
Accusations by the whistleblower originally known as “Lonewolf” were extensively detailed last year by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Sgt. Daniel O’Neil revealed his identity in July 2013 while taking steps to file a discrimination lawsuit against the St. Louis County police. O’Neil said he was targeted for retaliation by the department after it became known he was the whistleblower.