The history of the local control of the St Louis Police Department is a long one. Since 1861, the state has controlled the city police department. Unlike Kansas City, the department was not taken over by the state because of corruption or malfeasance, but because of politics. The state retains control of the City of St Louis Police Department 150 years later for the same reason, politics.
Every time an objection is raised and knocked down, a new one rises up in its place. Citizens of St Louis said in November by a 69% margin that they wanted control of their police department back. It’s way past time this happens.
Opponents continue to raise the specter that the return of local control to the citizens will result in an unprofessional police department, one subject to political manipulation — as though it isn’t now (Taxpayers of the City of St Louis Deserve Local Control of Their Police Department). It’s kind of one of those “when did you stop beating your wife?” arguments. You know, the kind that suggests something to be true without evidence for it and projects the unsubstantiated allegation into the future, and people say, “Yeah, I can see that.”
The City of St Louis is currently the No. 1 crime rate city in the country. Something is not working, and a change to local control can’t make it any worse.
If you don’t live in the City of St Louis or go there often, why should you care about this whole local control issue? The first reason is that local control of local government functions is best handled by those closest to the people. If you are paying the bills, shouldn’t you have some input? The state’s ability to unilaterally take away a local government function should concern all of us.
The second reason is that whether you ever go to St Louis and pay any sales tax or fee of any kind, you are already helping to pay for expenses of the St Louis Police Department. And in today’s fiscal environment, you could be paying more, a lot more!
Today, state taxpayers contribute $1 million dollars per year to the State Legal Expense Fund (SLEF) for the purpose of covering judgments against the St Louis Police Department. That’s a million dollars that could have been put into school transportation budgets that have been withheld by the governor. How can this be, you may ask? It’s elementary.
The Missouri Supreme Court first found in State ex rel. Sayad v Zych 642 S.W.2d 907 (1982) and many subsequent cases that because the Board of City of St Louis Police Commissioners is a state agency, the state has responsibility for it and the department’s actions. The most recent case, Smith III v. State, reiterated the point:
Respondents, who are members of the St. Louis Board of Police Commissioners, and certain named officers of the St. Louis Police Department filed a declaratory judgment action against the State of Missouri, the Attorney General, the Commissioner of Administration and the State Treasurer alleging that respondents are entitled to coverage under the State Legal Expense Fund (“SLEF”), sec. 105.711 et seq., RSMo 2000. (emphasis added) The SLEF provides for representation by the Attorney General and reimbursement for monies expended in defending certain lawsuits and for satisfaction of judgments or settlements pertaining to those lawsuits….
…In State ex rel. Sayad v. Zych, 642 S.W.2d 907 (Mo. banc 1982), this Court held that the Board is a “state agency” (emphasis added) as that term is used in the Hancock Amendment, article X, section 21, of the Missouri Constitution. The Court’s rationale was that the state has the power to compel the City to fund a police force, that under section 84.210, the state has delegated that power to the Board, and that in doing so, the Board performs a “state function.” (emphasis added) Id. at 910. In State ex rel. Sanders v. Cervantes, 480 S.W.2d 888, 891 (Mo. banc 1972), this Court characterized certain decisions of the Police Board as “the acts of any public official or administrative agency of this state,” (emphasis added) in determining that those decisions are subject to judicial review…
The courts leave no doubt that the state is ultimately responsible for the actions of the Board of Police Commissioners and the Police Department. In addition to the SLEF, what is the extent of state taxpayer exposure?
The opponents of local control claim the City only wants local control in order to access the pension system and rob it. This is impossible under the proposed bills to return local control to the citizens of St Louis. But what the heck, don’t let facts stop you. The Senate sponsor is even willing to change the bill to ensure the language is even stronger and protective.
Anyway, the only way the scenario by opponents of local control is plausible is if they believe that the city is in such dire financial straits that it needs the money. If the opponents are correct, there are bigger problems ahead for state taxpayers!
If the City of St Louis would happen to declare bankruptcy or default on pension payments, you and I would be left to pick up the tab. Best case estimates range from $80 million to $100 million a year. Where would this money come from? Schools, prisons, pick your poison.
So far the opponents have been offering primarily subjective assessments and emotional scare tactics as to why the St Louis PD should not be returned to the taxpayers of St Louis. They see bogey men behind every tree and attempt to create a smoke screen in their attempts to keep the status quo.
The facts don’t support their subjective assertions. The facts do support returning local control to the citizens of St Louis and getting the liability associated with the state’s control removed from the state taxpayers!