JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Gov. Mike Parson met with Black faith leaders Tuesday to talk about legislation and ways to address crime.
Rev. Darrly Gray, Bishop Lee Scott, Rev. Linden Bowie and Rev. Rodrick Burton met with the governor in his office Tuesday morning to talk about two big pieces of legislation; putting the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department under state control and allowing the governor to appoint a special prosecutor.
“We don’t think the numbers [cases] in St. Louis are any different than numbers across the country,” Gray, with the Progressive National Baptist Convention said. “We believe that Kim Gardner is doing the best job she can under the circumstances that she is working in.”
St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner has been the target of many discussions this session in Jefferson City.
“There’s no question that St. Louis has got to do a better job, or they are going to continue to have people trying to make sure they force 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 to 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 reach out to the attorney general’s office and ask for that help but that hasn’t happened,” Parson aid.
House Bill 301 originally targeted the St. Louis Circuit Attorney’s Office but was later broadened to include more communities.
Before meeting with Parson, the Black faith leaders met with Attorney General Andrew Bailey. Gray said Bailey told the group there is a way for prosecutors around the state to ask the attorney general’s office for help if need be.
“It dispels this myth that legislators have that there needs to be legislation to create a special prosecutor, for all the prosecutors around the state, when we know that the real target is Kim Gardner,” Gray said. “She has made it very clear that she doesn’t believe that sending everybody to jail is going to solve the problem of crime in St. Louis.”
The Black faith leaders said St. Louis City has elected Gardner twice to do the job.
“If our vote matters, then listen to our vote,” Scott with the Lively Stone Church of God in St. Louis said. “This is the will of the people.”
“There should never an easy road to be a criminal and at the end of the day, that’s what they are and we have to start enforcing the laws again,” Parson said. We don’t have a good record on convictions of homicides in St. Louis and I think we all realize we have to figure out 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’s police department disagrees. Across the state in Jackson County, who oversees Kansas City, says it doesn’t have any backlog of cases.
The House voted 109-35 to pass the legislation last Thursday. It’s now in the hands of the Senate, who has not said if and when the bill will be brought up for debate.
The other matter at hand, 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 legislators are putting laws on the book that make it more difficult for police to do their jobs and then they turn around and penalize our local police department for not being able to keep things under wrap,” Bowie with the Missionary Baptist State Convention of Missouri said.
Back in 2012, Missouri voters approved putting the department under the control of the mayor’s office. Under Schroer’s plan, four members pointed by the governor, along with the president of the city’s Board of Aldermen would serve on a Board of Police Commissioners. If Senate Bill 78 is approved and signed by the governor, the board would meet starting in August 2023.
The Board of Police Commissioners would be required to have 1,142 police officers on the force at a time. Currently, the St. Louis Police Officers Association, who represents the police union for the city, says the department has around 1,000 officers.
The bill would also increase the 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 around $50,000.
“You cannot keep doing the same thing you’re doing, and the results are getting worse and expect changes not to be made,” Parson said.
Gray said during the meeting with the governor, Parson made them feel confident that he doesn’t want to push the General Assembly move the department to state control.
“I don’t think the governor wants to be the governor and the police chief over the city,” Gray said. “Mayor Jones has only been the mayor for two years, give her a chance. The new police chief said give me a chance.”
The Kansas City Police Department said it’s short more than 300 officers, the largest number of openings the agency has had since 1972. Schroeder said the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department has about 200 open officer positions. Paron said he has had a good relationship with this group of faith leaders since becoming governor.
“I’ve met them on several occasions and we’re trying to come through common interests that we all agree on and try to figure out how we can fix things,” Parson said. “Whether that be through education, mental health, incarceration or how do we get 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 resolve the issues, but if we continue this tension among each other, this will continue to rise,” Scott said. “We want crime down, we want the right cases prosecuted in a timely manner, and those that need to go behind bars, we want them behind bars, and those that don’t need to go behind bars that we can rehabilitate in the street with our programs, let’s do that.”