JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Gov. Mike Parson met with black faith leaders on Tuesday to talk about legislation and ways to address crime.
The Rev. Darrly Gray, Bishop Lee Scott, the Rev. Linden Bowie and the Rev. Rodrick Burton met with the governor in his office Tuesday morning to discuss two major pieces of legislation; placing the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department under state control and allowing the governor to appoint a special prosecutor.
“We don’t think about the numbers [cases] in St. Louis are different from the numbers across the country,” Gray said, with the Progressive National Baptist Convention. “We believe Kim Gardner is doing the best job possible under the circumstances in which she is working.”
St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner was the focus of much discussion at this session in Jefferson City.
“There’s no question that St. Louis has to do a better job, or they’re going to continue to have people trying to make sure they’re forcing them to do a better job,” Parson said in an exclusive interview Tuesday.
Earlier this month, the House passed a bill allowing the governor to appoint a special prosecutor in municipalities with 35 homicide cases per 100,000 people. Last year, the city of St. Louis reported 200 homicides.
“There are resources now if the prosecutor was willing to contact the attorney general’s office and ask for that help, but that didn’t happen,” Parson helps.
House Bill 301 originally targeted the St. Louis Circuit Attorney’s Office, but was later expanded to include more communities.
Before meeting with Parson, black faith leaders met with Attorney General Andrew Bailey. Gray said Bailey told the group there is a way for prosecutors across the state to ask the attorney general’s office for help if needed.
“Debunk this myth that lawmakers need legislation to create a special prosecutor, for all prosecutors statewide, when we know the real target is Kim Gardner,” Gray said. “He made it very clear that he doesn’t believe sending everyone to jail will solve the crime problem in St. Louis.”
Black faith leaders said St. Louis City elected Gardner twice to do the job.
“If our vote matters, then listen to our vote,” Scott said with the Lively Stone Church of God in St. Louis. “This is the will of the people.”
“There should never be an easy road to being a criminal and ultimately, that’s who I am and we have to start enforcing the laws again,” Parson said. We don’t have a good homicide conviction record in St. Louis and I think we all realize that we need to find a way to do a better job.
The St. Louis Circuit Attorney’s Office says it has a backlog of 3,500 cases, but none of them are violent crime cases. The city police department disagrees. Statewide Jackson County, which oversees Kansas City, says it has no backlog of cases.
The House voted 109-35 to pass the legislation on Thursday. It is now in the hands of the Senate, which has not said if and when the bill will be brought up for discussion.
The other issue at hand is placing the city’s police department under state control, similar to Kansas City, where the agency is controlled by a board of police commissioners.
“Our lawmakers are introducing book laws that make it harder for police to do their jobs and then turn around and penalize our local police department for not being able to keep things under wraps,” Bowie with Missionary Baptist State Missouri Convention said.
In 2012, Missouri voters approved placing the department under the control of the mayor’s office. Under Schroer’s plan, four governor-appointed members, along with the chairman of the city’s board of aldermen, would serve on a board of police commissioners. If Senate Bill 78 is passed and signed by the governor, the council will meet starting in August 2023.
The Board of Police Commissioners is expected to have 1,142 police officers in force at any one time. Currently, the St. Louis Police Officers Association, which represents the city’s police union, says the department has about 1,000 officers.
The bill would also raise starting pay for officers by $4,000 in July 2024. Jay Schroeder, president of the St. Louis Police Officers Association, said the current starting salary is about $50,000.
“You can’t keep doing the same thing you’re doing, and the results are getting worse and no changes are expected,” Parson said.
Gray said that when meeting with the governor, Parson made them feel confident that he wasn’t pushing the General Assembly to move the department under state control.
“I don’t think the governor wants to be the governor and police chief of the city,” Gray said. “Mayor Jones has only been mayor for two years, give him a chance. The new police chief said give me a chance.
The Kansas City Police Department said it is shorting more than 300 officers, the most vacancies the agency has had since 1972. Schroeder said the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department has about 200 officer positions open. Paron said he has had a good relationship with this group of religious leaders since he became governor.
“I’ve met with them on a number of occasions and we’re trying to go over common interests that we all agree on and try to figure out how we can make things right,” Parson said. “Whether it’s through education, mental health, incarceration or how we bring people back into the community. I really think they have a huge impact on what happens to people’s lives in St. Louis.
Scott said he walked away from the meeting Tuesday feeling good that the governor said he wants to work together to resolve these issues.
“If we work together, we can solve problems, but if we continue this tension between us, it will continue to rise,” Scott said. “We want to reduce crime, we want the right cases to be prosecuted in a timely manner, and those who need to go behind bars, we want them behind bars, and those who don’t need to go behind bars we can rehabilitate on the street with the our plans, let’s do it.