Our Call: Tale of three cities and a county on jail cooperation   



South County saw two proposals for crossjurisdictional law enforcement cooperation last week, and one shows what to do while the other is a textbook example of what not to do.

Crestwood and Sunset Hills are weighing whether to combine 911 dispatching for their police departments, and in an emergency, whether Crestwood could house holdover jailees at the Sunset Hills department.

Although the details were set to be discussed at meetings in both cities after press time, on its face this proposal seems to show exactly what can be gained through cooperation: Taxpayer savings and better services.

But then you have St. Louis County and the city of St. Louis. On new St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones’ first day in office last week, she said she would be closing the original city jail, the Workhouse. On her third day, since the city does not have enough room for the Workhouse inmates in its other jail, Jones said among other options, the city inmates could be housed in the St. Louis County Justice Center. Jones first floated the idea with County Executive Sam Page April 14, before she took office, a county spokesman said.

It would be easy to criticize the city and its lack of jail locks right now.

But our concerns with this revolve around the county, not the city.

Since a series of inmate deaths in 2019, including Oakville and Affton residents, the county jail has been through two new directors: Raul Banasco, who resigned amid claims of a “toxic workplace”; and now Doug Burris, who is supremely qualified. But just weeks ago, a Justice Advisory Board member quit in frustration, criticizing the transparency of Page, who appointed her in 2019.

The county finally sought bids last month for an independent review of the deaths, but that came after settling one lawsuit for $865,000, with others still in the legal system. Without an answer yet as to how the deaths happened or can be prevented, we don’t believe inmates from another jurisdiction should be added into the mix.

If serious, any plan should be debated in public by the County Council and the city’s Board of Aldermen while taking public comments, just like Crestwood and Sunset Hills.

If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing publicly.