St. Louis police officers are getting indicted on corruption
charges at a record rate this year. An embarrassing lapse of hiring
standards that continued unnoticed for years may be partly to blame.
Key parts of background checks required before any candidate is
admitted to the Police Academy were mysteriously discontinued
sometime in the early 1980s, the Post-Dispatch has learned.
They weren't resumed until years later, in the late 1980s,
veteran police commanders revealed last week.
Hundreds of officers were hired before the lapse was
discovered, and full background checks resumed only about six or
seven years ago.
Although most of those officers probably would have passed the
background checks, some might not have, authorities say. Last week,
police belatedly discovered that an officer indicted this month on
corruption charges had a criminal record that could have
disqualified him from the force.
Police Chief Clarence Harmon wouldn't discuss the lapse in
background checks. He reportedly has asked internal affairs
investigators to determine if any of the more than 20 officers
under indictment or investigation skirted department qualifications
when they were hired.
Harmon, however, did single out the "ace" system as another
reason that unqualified police candidates might have slipped
through the screening process.
"Ace" is police jargon for an influential politician or
business person who meddles in Police Department affairs. Police
officers have complained for years that they needed an "ace" to get
Harmon says he discovered the power of the "aces" just after
his August 1991 swearing-in.
"I was astonished at the degree to which business and political
leaders were accustomed to calling the chief to recommend that I
hire, promote or transfer certain individuals," Harmon said. "And
they expected it to be done."
This is the first time a sitting police chief has publicly
acknowledged how "aces" have interfered with the department.
Sometimes, powerful "aces" asked Harmon to hire candidates who
couldn't pass a background check. Harmon says he refused.
When an officer with influential friends wanted a promotion,
Harmon says, he got 20 letters and 15 phone calls from influential
Harmon's response to the longtime practice of giving in to
"aces" was straightforward.
"I simply stopped it," the chief says.
A RASH OF SCANDALS
Inspector of Police Raymond B. Lauer, a 38-year veteran, is in
charge of rooting out police corruption. He got the job just a week
ago after Harmon transferred his predecessor, Lt. Col. Ronald
Harmon kept the first of the current corruption investigations
secret from Henderson, reportedly because the chief feared
Henderson's relationship with one of the most powerful "aces":
Senate Majority Leader J.B. "Jet" Banks, D-St. Louis.
Of the three current corruption investigations, Lauer says, "I
don't recall us ever being faced with this many challenges."
In March, two officers, including one who was a part-time
bodyguard for Banks, were charged in state court with demanding
$300 from a motorist. They released him only after the motorist got
the cash from an automatic teller machine, authorities say.
The next month, a federal grand jury indicted the two officers
on federal extortion charges.
April was a bad month for two more police bodyguards with
A full-time police bodyguard for Mayor Freeman Bosley Jr. and
the part-time bodyguard for Comptroller Virvus Jones were
reassigned to desk jobs. They were among 20 officers in trouble
over allegations that police were working part-time jobs as
security officers at the same times they were working for the
Because most of the activity took place at a federally funded
housing complex, the FBI was called in and is concentrating on 16
of the officers. …