JEFFERSON CITY - Localized control of the St. Louis Police Department is making headway in the Missouri Senate after passing with roughly two-thirds support in the House of Representatives in February.
"We've met with both sides in the last week and we are actually making some progress, but we are going to keep, hopefully, the ball rolling," Sen. Kevin Engler, R-Farmington, said during a Senate Financial Committee hearing. "I feel like if we don't, the progress won't keep rolling."
The committee voted 6-2 to approve the bill that would return localized control from the state of Missouri to the City of St. Louis.
"I am very elated about what has happened in the Senate," Rep. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis City, said. "It clearly shows that people are beginning to understand the importance of local control."
St. Louis is one of only two cities in the United States that does not have local control over its police force (the other is Kansas City). The city has also been ranked the No. 1 most dangerous city in America, according to FBI statistics reported to Time magazine. Nasheed said the state has been unresponsive to this issue.
"We have to come 130 miles to talk to a governor who doesn't even care about what is going on in the St. Louis area," Nasheed said. "We had the highest murder rate in the country, the governor didn't say one word about what is happening in the St. Louis area when it comes to the murder rate and the crime that is impacting our communities each and every day. He hasn't said a word yet."
Nasheed said with localized control, the people have a voice.
A fellow Democrat from the St. Louis area, Sen. Maria Chappell-Nadal, D-St. Louis County, said she would be on board with the bill if a chapter about specific benefits were included. Until it is, Chappell-Nadall said there are 11 senators prepared to filibuster.
"There is language in there, even though it says it will not impact pensions, it sunsets the language that is currently in our statute that talks about health insurance and life insurance, salary schedules and what happens with widows," Chappell-Nadal said. "They are taking that language out of current statute and that is one of the biggest concerns I have in this conversation. ... I would just hate to see any current police officers or future police officers to not be afforded the opportunity that most police officers throughout the country have."
Nasheed defended the bill and said civil service benefits would be provided through the city.
"I don't think that should be a major concern of hers because if there was a problem with the civil service package when it comes to vacation times and things of that sort, you would have heard a major uproar from the fire department," Nasheed said. "The fire department is not complaining about their civil service plan. The benefits are still going to be there."