JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — The St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department has been under local control for the last decade, but some lawmakers would like to see the agency overseen by the state.
With rising crime in the City of St. Louis, newly elected Sen. Nick Schroer, a Republican from St. Charles County, wants to put 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 board.
“At the current rates, in the next four years, more people will be murdered in the City of St. Louis under local control than were killed on September 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 the political dynamic and the distrust for who’s managing the department out of it and puts it back in the control of a group of individuals who will decide what’s best for the city,” Schroer said. “Businesses have even made their positions know that they will either leave if crime is not taken care of, or they have already left.”
But the city’s outgoing Public Safety Director Dan Isom disagrees, and says changes aren’t needed.
“There is no evidence to support that returning control to the state will have any measurable impact on violent crime,” Isom said. “Simple a law enforcement approach is not going to cure this. 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 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 staffing, 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,” Tracy said.
Isom previously served as the St. Louis City police chief. When he was in charge, the agency was under state control.
“One of the drawbacks of being separate from the city was a lack of collaboration with other parts of city government,” Isom said. “Local control has garnered more partnerships and more of a wholistic approach to addressing crime.”
Some members on the committee pointed fingers at the city’s prosecutor and mayor.
“How can the St. Louis Police Department thrive when they have virtually no support from the other civic leaders in the City of St. Louis,” Sen. Bill Eigel, R-Weldon Spring, said. “If I had a nickel for every time, I’ve heard an official from the City of St. Louis sits in front of this legislature and promise improvement if we would just leave them alone, we could solve a lot of budget issues.”
Back in 2012, Missouri voters approved to put 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 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.
“Something has got to give,” Schroeder said. “We have to keep the region protected and we have to keep the citizens, most importantly the citizens of the City of St. Louis, protected and they are not getting that police service right now under local, political control.”
Schroer represents St. Charles County, a concern for some.
“We’re not St. Louisans,” Sen. Greg Razer, D-Kansas City, said. “I’m a little uncomfortable taking back control from St. Louis as someone from Jackson County. I believe St. Louisans can govern themselves and I’m just uncomfortable with that.”
On the other side of the state, the Kansas City Police Department is controlled by the Board of Police Commissioners which is made up of four people appointed by the governor and the mayor.
“Kansas City is not safer 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 harder to improve salary increase, and many things require approval from the General Assembly in Jefferson City.
“It instead impacts our ability to respond to crime,” Lucas said. “That’s why no other major American city does it like 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’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.
Thursday morning, a bill sponsored by Rep. Lane Roberts, R-Joplin, will be heard in a House committee that would give the governor the power to appoint a special prosecutor to help with the backlog felony cases. The appointee would serve a five-year term and be allowed to hire up to 15 assistant prosecutors and 15 staff.
Schroer said he is in favor of the legislation and is looking to file something himself.
“Where if a it’s a prosecutor who’s overworked, understaff or it’s a prosecutor who is unwilling to uphold that oath to protect and serve the community and go after the criminals, a panel of prosecutors can pick somebody to come in and do that job,” Schroer said.
Roberts’ legislation is House Bill 301.