Police in St. Louis, Missouri, are working to wrest control of their department from the city’s progressive mayor and place it in the hands of the Republican governor.
Law enforcement unions argue that local oversight has “put politics into policing” and that state oversight would help address a rise in homicides and declines in police morale and staffing levels. They rallied around Senate Bill 78, which would restore a Civil War-era system of state control overturned by Missouri voters in 2012 and make St. Louis one of the only major cities in the country without authority over its own military forces. police. The Missouri Legislature’s attempt to strip city officials of power is a “slap in the face” to St. Louis voters, Mayor Tishaura Jones said.
The move comes just two years after St. Louis first elected Jones and Progressives won a majority on the city’s Board of Aldermen. While the police department’s operations “are by no means perfect,” Jones told The Intercept, the people closest to the problem are the closest to the solution. Local officials should have control over how law enforcement resources are used, he said she.
The bill targeting elected leaders in St. Louis is one of several recent efforts across the country to undermine the authority of local progressive officials in policing and prosecution matters. Jones and his allies say the bill is an example of how police have turned their political efforts toward legislation as their favorite candidates have continued to lose at the polls.
There’s a “common thread of cities that I’m aware of where this is happening,” Jones said. “Where there has been a concerted attempt to disempower local leadership, mayors are black.” He pointed to Kansas City, Missouri, where residents have struggled to regain control of the police department from the state, and Jackson, Mississippi, a majority-black city that could see the creation of a separate court system and appointed police force. by whites. state officials if Republican lawmakers get their way.
Another recent Missouri House bill would allow the governor to strip elected prosecutors of jurisdiction over some violent crimes. An earlier version of the bill targeted the St. Louis Circuit Attorney’s Office, where prosecutor Kim Gardner drew the ire of Republican officials for her promises to hold police accountable, stop the detention of criminals not violence and terminate the cash bail. Concerns about the constitutionality of targeting a specific office ultimately led state officials to broaden the bill’s scope.
Jones called the fight for control of the St. Louis Police Department a performative politics. “We’re either going to learn to get along and make sure we protect the people we’re all duly elected to serve, or we’re going to continue to have these little squabbles,” he said to her.
Critics of the proposed change in St. Louis say it’s not an actual effort to stop violent crime, but a power play against officials who haven’t shown the same loyalty to the police as their predecessors. Black lawmakers in the state legislature criticized the bill as an attempt to disempower democratically elected black officials “under the guise of ‘public safety.'” The Missouri Legislative Black Caucus did not respond to a request for comment.
Under the current structure, Jones has the power to hire and fire police chiefs. If the bill passes, that power would be vested in a board appointed by Republican Gov. Mike Parson. The bill would also require the board to staff the police department with at least 1,142 members and raise police salaries by $4,000 starting next summer. (The department currently has approximately 1,000 sworn officers and 400 civilian employees.)
Jones said he hoped Parson would see the city’s case and stop the bill if it passes. “Our governor is a former sheriff,” he said. “I know he appreciates local control of law enforcement.”
State Senator Nick Schroer, who sponsored the bill, did not respond to a request for comment.
The St. Louis Police Department was previously supervised by the state in an arrangement dating back to the Civil War when the then governor of Missouri enacted state control of local police as it prepared to secede and join the Confederacy. It wasn’t until 2012 that Missouri voters secured local control of the St. Louis Police Department in a statewide referendum. The Kansas City Police Department, meanwhile, remained under state authority. That hasn’t stopped Kansas City from experiencing the same homicide spike as many other cities across the country in recent years. However, St. Louis police and their allies in office cited a similar spike in St. Louis calling for a return to state oversight.
The St. Louis Police Officers Association has been vocal in support of the bill, as has the Police Ethics Society, a union representing black police officers in St. Louis. The two unions have long disagreed on some political issues, particularly related to police reform. The Ethical Society of Police has opposed a move by St. Louis prosecutors to join the officers’ association in a rebuke of St. Louis County Attorney Wesley Bell, who ran on a platform of reform and ousted the longtime Officers Association ally Bob McCulloch in 2018.
The Missouri state legislature first considered the bill against St. Louis in January. The bill passed a state Senate committee earlier this month and is expected to pass a House committee in the coming weeks before receiving a full vote in both houses.