–By Stephen Deere – St. Louis Post-Dispatch
A detective formerly attached to St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley’s security detail has been disciplined for running improper criminal background checks on about 200 people.
St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar would not disclose the severity of the discipline, calling it an internal matter. But he did say that the detective has been transferred from the county executive’s office.
Belmar said that in some cases the detective was running the checks at the request of a neighbor to see if he or she would qualify for a job or to get pictures of other officers so that their photos would appear when they called his cell.
“I don’t know if he was just passing the time,” Belmar said. “There was no rhyme or reason to it.”
Another officer attached to the detail received a low-level reprimand for also running five to 10 background checks to vet Dooley’s potential appointees to county commissions, Belmar said.
Belmar said those requests came at the behest of Tom Curran, Dooley’s director of intergovernmental affairs. He stressed that Curran’s requests were in no way improper.
“The county executive’s office asked for these checks to be done for various legitimate reasons,” Belmar said. “I don’t think it’s unreasonable to seek the guidance of police officers that are right there with you.”
Neither Dooley nor his spokeswoman, Pat Washington, could be reached for comment.
Belmar said the county police department’s internal investigation, which reviewed background checks run by the detectives from January to October of last year, found no evidence that they were running checks on political opponents of the county executive.
Belmar’s predecessor, Tim Fitch, had previously told the Post-Dispatch that questions about the background checks first arose in October when Garry Earls, Dooley’s chief of staff, announced that a check on potential police board candidate Dave Spence came back clean.
Fitch thought it was a conflict of interest for the department to run checks on potential board members tapped to oversee the department.
Belmar said that those checks on police board nominees will now be run by another department.
The officers were using a system available to law enforcement known as REJIS, which can reveal information well beyond a standard criminal background check. For example, a REJIS check can reveal past arrests, not just convictions.
Belmar said both officers should have known better than to vet potential political appointees through the REJIS system. He also said that requests for background checks should have gone through the police department’s records room and have been no different than the tens of thousands of other checks the department does every year for private citizens or employers.
Those checks typically cost $9, and from now on, the county executive’s office will be required to pay the fee and go through the same channels as anyone else, Belmar said.
Belmar said access to the REJIS system has been removed from the county executive’s office. The officer who received the reprimand remains on Dooley’s detail.
Belmar said the police department is in the process of sending letters to inform everyone whose name was run through the REJIS system, and that so far, no one has complained.