South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

Panel voices support for Sunset Hills Police Department, chief

Police board chairman cites ‘impeccable record’ of chief

If the Sunset Hills Police Advisory Board gets its way, the talk of whether to abolish the city’s Police Department in favor of outsourcing police services to St. Louis County will have ended earlier this week after a meeting of the Board of Aldermen.

The police board voted unanimously last week to adopt a myriad of resolutions strongly supporting the Police Department and Police Chief William LaGrand, to counteract rumors that Mayor Mark Furrer intends to abolish the police force.

“These rumors are dangerous,” police board Chairman Frank Pellegrini said. “I don’t like it, I don’t like having this meeting — but I think it’s time to put a stake in the ground and draw a line.”

After the police board meeting, LaGrand said he was happy with the board’s expressions of support for his department and its officers and glad that the rumors that the department might be outsourced to St. Louis County might be stopped.

“I believe that the overwhelming majority of the people who live in Sunset Hills love their Police Department,” he said. “We have (officers) with young kids and families, and it’s just bad for morale.”

The police board’s resolutions in support of the Police Department also “send the strongest vote of confidence to our chief,” Pellegrini said. The resolutions were set to be discussed by aldermen Tuesday night — after the Call went to press — along with a resolution that the Board of Aldermen, not the mayor, oversees the police, and a recommendation that LaGrand’s personal use of a city car be reinstated.

Furrer did not attend the police board meeting, but he reiterated to the Call after the meeting that he does not want to dissolve the Police Department, despite rumors that he publicly stated that intention at a Kiwanis Club luncheon and a Finance Committee meeting.

“I don’t know where this stuff is coming from — it’s just crazy,” he said. “I give the Police Department a ringing endorsement. Every one of the officers and the lieutenants do an exceptional job.”

Although Furrer declined to discuss whether he asked the chief to resign after Furrer took office in April because it is a personnel matter, Ward 1 Alderman Dee Baebler wrote in an email to her ward that Furrer asked LaGrand to resign, which LaGrand declined. LaGrand has been chief for 23 years and is near retirement age.

The police board agreed to ask the Board of Aldermen to reinstate LaGrand’s personal use of a city car, which aldermen took away in a closed session in May on a 7-1 vote, with Ward 1 Alderman Richard Gau dissenting. Gau is the aldermanic representative on the police board. During the discussion, Pellegrini cited LaGrand’s “impeccable record” as chief.

Jim Hobbs, the city’s mayor from 2000 to 2006 and an alderman for 14 years, was the only resident who spoke at the meeting, which roughly 20 citizens attended.

The entire situation is “ridiculous,” he said, and LaGrand is “probably one of the best public servants we have in this city.”

“I mean, the mayor got elected … and the next week he wants to get rid of one of our best employees?” Hobbs said. “Somebody’s got to step up. I mean, this is out of control.

“I could go on and on … We have these people running for election on one negative issue and they get into office and they act like they can just run things crazy.”

After Pellegrini set the police board agenda Aug. 28, he talked with Furrer that day to let him know everything that was going to be discussed, including contracting out the Police Department, he said.

“There’s articles in the paper where the mayor’s indicating he’s blindsided and what have you, and I don’t think he was blindsided,” Pellegrini told the board.

When the Call talked to Furrer about the police board’s agenda Aug. 30, he said it was the first he’d heard of it and that he was stunned that the police board was talking about outsourcing police to St. Louis County, noting, “I have no idea what they’re doing. I haven’t seen anything yet.”

Although the county Police Department’s investigation into an incident between Furrer and a bicyclist who said the mayor ran him off the road July 29 was put on the back burner during the unrest in Ferguson, the investigation is nearly complete.

Last week, Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch’s office sent Furrer’s case back to detectives for roughly a week’s worth of more investigation on some “small items,” said McCulloch spokesman Ed Magee.

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