Judge makes correct call on new police standards

‘Call the Tune’ by Mike Anthony

By Mike Anthony

A St. Louis County Circuit Court judge made the right call last week when he threw out St. Louis County’s new countywide police standards.

In his May 4 ruling, Judge Robert Cohen termed the countywide police standards “invalid and unenforceable.” We agree.

Sixteen county municipalities banded together to challenge the standards, spearheaded by County Executive Steve Stenger, who believes they are needed to ensure equal access to quality law enforcement for county residents, no matter where they live.

County officials were warned that the new standards would face a legal challenge well before they were approved. Undeterred, the County Council voted to adopt them anyway.

Stenger has vowed that Cohen’s ruling will be appealed. Good luck with that. In his ruling, Cohen concluded that adoption of the standards was not authorized by the state Constitution, state statutes or the county Charter.

Sunset Hills City Attorney Robert E. Jones, who represented the 16 municipalities suing the county and Stenger, eloquently argued the case to Cohen last month against what Jones termed a “police takeover bill” and an unconstitutional and unprecedented overreach from the county into how cities operate.

Stenger was highly critical of former County Executive Charlie Dooley when they vied for the Democratic nomination to the post during 2014, particularly over Dooley’s spearheading of the establishment of trash districts, which resulted in numerous legal challenges.

Stenger, who represented the 6th District on the County Council until his election as county executive, said in July 2014, “I have been critical of the county’s trash-district program from its beginning prior to my service on the council. I count myself among the many who are disappointed why this whole matter wasn’t better handled. Legal challenges and losses by the county have been costly, and I believe they could have and should have been avoided.”

To his credit, Stenger announced in February 2015 a $5.8 million settlement to a lawsuit filed by three trash haulers over the county’s establishment of trash districts.

Yet, during his short tenure as county executive, Stenger’s administration has become embroiled in a number of pending lawsuits — some of which, we believe, “could have and should have been avoided.”

A perfect example is the lawsuit over the new police standards.