JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Democrat lawmakers in St. Louis and Kansas City are upset with Republicans over the state’s two largest cities trying to cut their police departments.
Over the past week, Republicans in the St. Louis and Kansas City areas have asked Gov. Mike Parson to call a special session to stop local governments from defunding their police departments, but Democrats who live in those cities are frustrated because their colleagues don’t live in and around the dangerous crime.
“Some of my fellow white colleagues come in and to tell St. Louis they know better what’s for them, it was disrespectful,” Rep. Rasheed Aldridge (D-St. Louis) said.
State Rep. Nick Schroer (R-O’Fallon), joined by a handful of other Republicans in St. Louis Wednesday, said they want Parson to call a special session to address public safety issues, like defunding police departments, but the news didn’t sit well with Democrats.
“It’s clear that these are not people who live in our district, who live in the urban core,” State Sen. Barbara Washington (D-Kansas City) said.
In the past month, the Kansas City Council agreed to cut $42 million out of the Kansas City Police Department’s budget, moving that money to the community services fund. Mayor Quinton Lucas said it will prevent crime. The City of St. Louis proposed a spending plan in May that cuts $4 million from the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department’s budget. Instead, the money would go to homeless services and affordable housing.
“We need to have law and order, not chaos,” Rep. Dottie Bailey (R-Eureka) said during Wednesday’s news conference.
While on the other side of the aisle, Washington said this call from Republicans is no surprise.
“We need to reevaluate what policing is,” Washington said. “It doesn’t give me as much heartburn because I’m used to it. They could come to us, who actually reside in these communities. It would be the respectable thing to do, it would have been the right thing to do.”
Aldridge said he agrees with the newly elected mayor of St. Louis Tishaura Jones in trying something different with the funds.
“We need to reimagine what public safety looks like again,” Aldridge said. “Again, public safety isn’t just law enforcement, public safety is healthcare, public safety is education. Police can’t do it on their own and we have to find a different way to support them.”
Last week, a handful of Republican lawmakers in the Kansas City area called on the governor for a special session to address the after the $42 million budget cut to the Kansas City Police Department.
“The police don’t need to be defunded, we all need the police, and we need safety, but we also need our officers to be safe, we need them to be mentally prepared at all times,” Washington said.
Schroer also said Wednesday if St. Louis and its prosecutor, Kim Gardner, do not get serious about arresting criminals and prosecuting cases against them he said he would push for the state to take back local control.
“Not many times this session I was approached by any of those individuals at the press conference that really had serious concerns about the crime in St. Louis and that they wanted to be of help,” Aldridge said.
Both Washington and Aldridge mentioned the special session last fall where lawmakers came back to Jefferson City to address violent crime. Less than half of the governor’s proposals made it across the finish line.
“I don’t think we need a special session; I don’t think we need to waste taxpayers’ dollars to go up to have a moment for Republicans that have these talking points,” Aldridge said. “We had a special session on crime, the governor called a special session on crime to address it in St. Louis and Kansas City, so we’ve been down this road and what we saw last year when the governor called it, it was a complete dumpster fire.”
Washington said this money coming from the police department needs to be spent on programs and services for kids.
“The opportunities and options for kids are not there,” Washington said. “There are not as many opportunities for young people, there are not as many jobs for young people to keep them occupied and to keep them off the streets.”
Lawmakers living inside the state’s two largest cities said this change in funding could prevent crime.
“A lot of homeless people have to commit crimes in order to survive, whether they are stealing or doing drugs,” Washington said. “Giving them a home would just increase their mental stability.”
Aldridge agrees, saying this could give those struggling a second chance to get back on their feet.
“When people talk about defunding or reimagining how we look at public safety and saying police isn’t the only route to making sure crime is reduced,” Aldridge said. “We’ve constantly funneled money to police thinking that policing can change the reality of crime.”
Instead, he would rather like to see a discussion on how the state allocates more money to mental health.
“We need to have a serious conversation on not being tougher on crime, but being smarter on crime and until we have those tougher conversations, no matter how many special sessions you call, you’re still going to have high crime in St. Louis and Kansas City,” Aldridge said.
Wednesday evening, both Jones and the Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas issued a joint statement to the call for a special session:
“Today’s grandstanding doesn’t make our communities any safer. As mayors of Missouri’s two largest cities, we are committed to collaborating with anyone willing to offer real solutions and investment to address the underlying conditions that lead to crime—poverty, lack of mental health services, housing instability, and more.
“Republican lawmakers on the outskirts of our communities calling for a special legislative session are offering no real solutions. Instead, they are advocating away the right of St. Louis and Kansas City residents to make decisions for our own communities.
“Both of us have committed to visiting each other’s respective cities to speak with those most affected by disinvestment—primarily in traditionally minority neighborhoods—and to discuss solutions to benefit the people of St. Louis, Kansas City, and all of Missouri. We again extend that same invitation to any elected leader who is serious about having truthful conversations about what actually makes our communities safer.”MAYOR JONES
Gov. Mike Parson’s office said there has been no decision on if there will be a special session. A spokesperson for the governor did say in a statement:
“Governor Parson believes in law and order, which means there must be brave men and women in uniform willing to enforce the law and protect victims. It is imperative that communities support our law enforcement officers who risk their lives daily to keep Missourians safe. Any effort to defund the police is dangerous and irresponsible.”