JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – The St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department has been under local control for the past decade, but some lawmakers would like to see the agency overseen by the state.
With crime on the rise in the city of St. Louis, newly elected Senator Nick Schroer, a Republican from St. Charles County, wants to bring the police department back under state control. His proposal is similar to Kansas City, where the police department is under the control of a police council.
“At the current rate, more people will be murdered in the locally controlled city of St. Louis over the next four years than were killed on 9/11,” Schroer said Wednesday morning.
He said his legislation, Senate Bill 78, could help get the city of St. Louis back on track.
“It’s taking away the political dynamic and the distrust of whoever runs the department and putting it back under the control of a group of individuals who are going to decide what’s best for the city,” Schroer said. “Companies have even let their positions know they will walk away if crime is not taken care of, or they are already gone.”
But outgoing city public safety director Dan Isom disagrees, saying the changes aren’t necessary.
“There is no evidence to support that returning control to the state will have a measurable impact on violent crime,” Isom said. “Just the law enforcement approach won’t solve this problem. There was a time when the police department had over 2,000 officers and we still had the same problem.”
During a Senate committee hearing on Wednesday, Isom was joined by the city’s new police chief, Robert Tracy.
“I’ve only been here a couple of weeks and I’m looking under the hood and I’m looking at people, I’m looking at technology, I’m looking at how we do things, I’m looking at strategy and I’m looking at how we respond to all these crimes,” he said. Tracy.
Isom had previously served as the St. Louis City Police Chief. When he was in office, the agency was under state control.
“One of the drawbacks of being separated from the city was the lack of cooperation with other parts of the city government,” Isom said. “Local control has garnered more partnerships and a more holistic approach to tackling crime.”
Some committee members pointed the finger at the prosecutor and the city mayor.
“How can the St. Louis Police Department thrive when it has virtually no support from the other civic leaders of the city of St. Louis,” said Sen. Bill Eigel, R-Weldon Spring. “If I had a dime every time, I heard a St. Louis city official sitting across this legislature and promising improvements if we leave them alone, we could solve a lot of budget problems.”
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 approved and signed by the governor, the board will meet beginning 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.
“Something has to give,” Schroeder said. “We have to keep the region protected and we have to keep the citizens, especially the citizens of the city of St. Louis, protected and they’re not getting that police service right now under local political control.”
Schroer represents St. Charles County, a concern for some.
“We are not St. Louisans,” said Senator Greg Razer, D-Kansas City. “I’m a little uncomfortable taking control of St. Louis like someone from Jackson County. I think St. Louisans can govern themselves, and that makes me uncomfortable.
Across the state, the Kansas City Police Department is overseen by the Board of Police Commissioners, made up of four people appointed by the governor and mayor.
“Kansas City is no longer safe under state control,” Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas said. “I think in many ways it’s the opposite.”
Lucas said being under state control makes it more difficult to improve pay raises, and many things require approval by the Jefferson City General Assembly.
“It has an impact on our ability to respond to crime,” Lucas said. “That’s why no other major American city does this. I think the best way to make our communities safer is to listen to the people in our communities.
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.
A bill sponsored by Rep. Lane Roberts R-Joplin will be heard on Thursday morning in a House committee that would give the governor the power to appoint a special prosecutor to help with the crime backlog cases. The appointee would have a five-year term and would be authorized to hire up to 15 assistant attorneys and 15 staff members.
Schroer said he supports the legislation and is looking to file something himself.
“Where whether it’s a prosecutor who’s overworked, understaffed, or it’s a prosecutor who’s unwilling to keep that oath to protect and serve the community and go after criminals, a group of prosecutors can choose someone to come in and do that job,” Schroer said.
Roberts’ legislation is House Bill 301.