JEFFERSON CITY -The mayor of St. Louis wants local control of the his police department.
Legislation to localize control of the St. Louis Police Department received support from the St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay while facing opposition from police labor organizations in a Senate hearing Tuesday. A similar bill passed a House committee Monday.
The proposed legislation would allow the City of St. Louis to control its police force without state intervention. According to Sen. Joseph Keaveny, the sponsor of the bill, St. Louis and Kansas City are the only cities in the country that have state controlled police departments. Keaveny said it was time for St. Louis to get up to speed.
Committee Chairman Sen. Jack Goodman, R-Mt. Vernon limiting witness testimonies on the bill to three minutes, expecting "a very full house and a very full hallway."
St. Louis Alderwoman Jennifer Florida said the current state run arrangement was implemented during the Civil War era.
"I think we need to finally close this chapter in the state of Missouri's history," Florida said. "We have the opportunity to move this story forward."
Presently, the St. Louis Police Department is run by a five member board of commissioners, comprised of four governor-appointed civilians and the Mayor of St. Louis.
Slay testified in favor of the bill, and said localizing the police force would benefit civilians, giving them "someone to turn to for results." Slay stressed the importance of accountablity, saying he wanted St. Louis citizens to have somewhere to go to address any issues they may have with law enforcement.
"I believe that government is best when it's closest to the people," Slay said.
Slay reinforced the need for accountability throughout his testimony, and specifically mentioned the police department's state audit, which he called "certainly one of the worst ever." Slay said the audit highlighted mismangement and scandal, though adding that blame should not fall on the officer's or the department as a whole but was instead "a result of the government structure, the lack of accountability."
Slay urged committee members to "give the city of St. Louis back its police department, just like every other city, county and state in the United States of America."
Sen. Scott Rupp, R-St. Charles County, was not as confident as Slay and asked if a local control plan would result in the city's 28 aldermen meddling in police operations.
"I've heard stories that some aldermen have contacted police and (said) 'my neighbor's bushes were trampled,' and (police) had to sit outside the house for two nights in a row when they could have been patrolling the streets because they had to appease the local officials," Rupp said.
Rupp also referred to citizens' e-mails which asked if bill was a "money-grab" meant to eat up police officers' pensions
Slay repeatedly said he had no interest in taking the pension money, and said that "in fact, it would be a crime to divert money from the pension system. If somebody tries to do it, they will go to jail."
Rep. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis City, who is sponsoring a similar bill in the House, said police pensions were unrelated to the bill.
"It was asinine to me to discuss it for so long," Nasheed said.
Joe Steiger, Vice President of the St. Louis Police Officers' Association, spoke out against the legislation.
Steiger countered Slay's statement on the current department set-up's lack of accountability, pointing out that Mayor Slay was an ex-officio member of the board of police commissioners, and had input into every decision made.
Steiger said the rest of the board was made up of "prominent city residents" posessing a "vested interest in having a professional department."
Steiger said his main concern was that that aldermen would attempt to interfer with police investigations and operations.