South St. Louis County News

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South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

Effort to place St. Louis police under state control returns in Missouri legislature

Photo by Getty Images/iStockphoto

Missourians voted in 2013 to return control of the St. Louis police department to local officials, ending more than 150 years of state oversight.

And almost immediately, state lawmakers began pushing to get control back.

That effort is back again this year, with proponents arguing the experiment with local control has failed, leaving the city a more dangerous place — a situation with statewide implications.

A Senate committee approved legislation last month sponsored by GOP state Sen. Nick Schroer of Defiance, that would transfer control of the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department to a Board of Police Commissioners. Under the proposed legislation, the board would be comprised of the president of the St. Louis Board of Aldermen and four members appointed by Missouri Gov. Mike Parson.

A similar board controls the Kansas City Police Department. It is currently the only major city in the United States without control of its police force.

The legislation, noting the board would “appoint and employ a permanent police force consisting of not less than 1,313 members,” says the city of St. Louis cannot pass ordinances “interfering with the powers of the state board.”

Attempts to interfere with the board’s authority by the mayor or any city official could result in a $1,000 fine and a ban from holding office.

Schroer argued during last month’s hearing that control should return to the state in order to correct what he called “mismanagement,” including a serious shortage of police officers and inadequate pay for police. Returning to state control, Schroer said, would boost the city’s police department and help St. Louis “rebuild the city as the vibrant gateway to the West.”

State Rep. Brad Christ, R-Sappington.

At a House hearing on similar legislation Feb. 8, South County Rep. Brad Christ, R-Sappington, said his bill is “not a crime plan.” He said that after the change from state to local control, the city “has seen some of its bloodiest years in its history.”

Opponents counter that crime in the city is in fact at the lowest levels in a decade, and recruitment and retention of St. Louis police is improved, due to more training and significant pay raises for officers.

Jared Boyd, chief of staff for St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones, and St. Louis Police Commissioner Robert Tracy, testified last month in opposition to the bill, telling a Missouri Senate committee that crime prevention is up, crime is down and efforts to recruit and retain police are underway.

In an interview for The Independent, Boyd argued that the legislature’s rationale for returning control to the state are not based on fact.

“Things were not perfect when the state controlled the police department,” Boyd said, adding that Kansas City, which remains under control of the state of Missouri, “is the only city in the country that is not under local control. It has experienced historic high homicide rates.”

Kansas City reported 180 homicides at the end of December 2023

St. Louis police reported 158 homicides in 2023, 200 in 2022, 200 in 2021, and 263 in 2020. As of Feb. 7, the police reported 23 homicides.

Tracy, who assumed the commissioner position in 2022, said last year’s data show a 22% reduction overall for murder, sexual assault, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, felony theft and auto theft. Aiding the crime reduction, city officials have said, are work with other law enforcement agencies and prosecutors, the creation of an Office of Violence Prevention, and strategies such as assigning the same officers to the same areas each time they report for duty.

The Missouri NAACP has publicly supported St. Louis retaining local control of its police department, according to Adolphus Pruitt, president of the St. Louis city branch of the NAACP.

Pruitt said the latest data “speak to crime prevention and a reduction in crime.”

He added: “The state has enough departments to run. It needs to concentrate on them.”

The city of St. Louis employs about 900 police officers. Schroer’s office argued in an email to The Independent that the city lacks adequate manpower to solve crime.

“Sen. Schroer’s constituents recognize this as a failed experiment,” the senator’s office said, “and are very vocal in wanting to end the idea that St. Louis is a sanctuary city for crime.”

Missouri Independent is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Missouri Independent maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Jason Hancock for questions: Follow Missouri Independent on Facebook and Twitter.