You would contact your mayor, your city councilman and/or your sheriff. Your community would demand that action be taken to address the problem. The mayor, city council and/or sheriff would respond with a plan to address it and agree that they should address it. This would be a great example of local control and responsiveness in action!
The residents of the City of St. Louis wish they had the ability to do that too! They wished their mayor and Board of Aldermen had the local control and influence over their police department that you and I enjoy. But they don’t and here is why.
Depending on your age, you may have robustly studied about the little disagreement that took place in our country between 1861-1865. It’s known by many names like the “War between the States,” “The Civil War” and “The War of Northern Aggression” in some places south of the Mason-Dixon line.
The Civil War officially ended when Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox Court House on April 9, 1865. There was a period following the end of the war known as “Reconstruction” where some reconstruction did take place and some corruption involving colorful characters like the Carpetbaggers and Scalawags. But even that officially ended in 1877.
One hundred and fifty years ago, the legislature of the state of Missouri demonstrated their loyalties to the South, ignored the will of the St. Louis City Council, the elected representatives of the city and even the people themselves, and took control of the St. Louis Police Department. So while the Civil War ended on April 9, 1865 and reconstruction in 1877, 150 years later the state of Missouri still controls the St. Louis Police Department. It is a rare occasion that I can be found guilty of recommending an article by Ray Hartmann, in a positive tone anyway, but I recommend to you his history of this issue found in stlmag.com in Think Again: Don’t Know Much About History.
The City of St. Louis does not control its own police department in any appreciable way. It does get the pleasure of paying the bills, some of them mandated and controlled by the state. A position that could come back to bite the state, but more about that in a later blog.
So back to the persistent and unrelenting crime problem in St. Louis. It’s no secret that St. Louis has unfortunately been ranked as the No. 1 crime-ridden city in the country (Morgan Quitno Awards Top and Bottom 25 Cities Overall). St. Louis ranked in the top of all metro areas regardless of size.
Imagine the frustration of the mayor and Board of Aldermen when they receive those calls about the crime in their city neighborhoods. How frustrated they become when they go to the state’s Police Board that runs the St. Louis Police Department and can only make requests rather than make sure the appropriate action is taken. Those elected by the residents of the City of St. Louis have no authority over the Police Department or the members of the Police Board of Commissioners, who are non-elected, appointed by the governor.
I would be one of the first to say that St. Louis City is not the example of the most efficient model of a city. They are still running a model that may have worked well when St. Louis was nearly 1 million citizens, but does not serve the people of the city, region and state well at all today. Changes are needed to truly make St. Louis a world class city; it will never achieve that status under its current structure. To their credit, many leaders in the city recognize this and are working to see changes are brought about.
However, this much needed change should not be used as an excuse to provide to the citizens of St. Louis the local control over the vital services of police protection that all of us enjoy and, quite frankly, demand! It’s been 150 years since the southern sympathizing governor and state legislature took over the St. Louis Police Department. It’s time the citizens of St. Louis got it back!
(Coming up next: Is the St. Louis Police Department Jay Nixon’s Blackwater?)