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State leaders, police union push for legislation giving control of St. Louis police department back to state

By Gabriela Vidal

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    ST. LOUIS, Missouri (KMOV) — Some St. Louis city leaders are pushing back, as a new bill backed by the local police union calls for control over the St. Louis City Police Department to go back to the state.

This proposal comes 10 years after Missourians voted to have the city take back control of their own force.

“It worked before, we’re hoping going back to that will help solve some of the moral issues, some of the issues with training and how the funding is being done for the police department. We’re hoping all these things will be address,” said Joe Steiger, who is the Business Manager for the St. Louis Police Officer’s Association (STLPOA).

On Wednesday, members of the police officer’s association joined Republican Senator Nick Schroer of St. Charles County as he introduced Senate Bill 78. The bill, which would give back SLMPD control over to the state, comes after years of concern that local control has led to significant budget cuts within the police department, and loss of police positions, among other issues they say are only contributing to ongoing concerns over crime in the community.

“It is something that ultimately impacts all of these surrounding counties, and it impacts the region as well,” said Schroer. “There are conventions that take place in the city of St. Louis, individuals come to see the Cardinals, the Blues, the Battlehawks, the new soccer team, and as of right now, crime is the number one issue to all of these individuals that used to love the city of St. Louis, [and] still love it but don’t feel safe because of the erosion of the police department.”

Schroer says his bill would establish a board of police commissioners of four members from St. Louis city community each appointed by the Governor.

“The mayor or the president of the board of alderman could be on this panel as well and they would decide working with the police, working with the new chief, working with the community how to best fund the police, [and] what items they need,” said Schroer. “We would have collaboration with city leaders, with citizens and try to do what’s best by the people by trying to take politics out of policing.”

“The other four are typically made of prominent St. louis city citizens, usually businesspeople or prominent people in the community who all have a vested interest in the city thriving, the crime being addressed and then the department being managed properly,” said Steiger. “It eliminates the political influence, that’s a big part of it.”

This board would be required to maintain at least 1,142 members on the police force, and, by July 2024, must boost police starting salaries by at least $4,000 dollars.

During today’s senate hearing on the bill, new police Chief Robert Tracy and outgoing interim public safety director Dr. Dan Isom were among the voices speaking out against state control.

“I’ve been serving in this role for two years. There has been no political interference with the operations of the police department while I’ve been in this role,” said Isom. “I agree that we need to stop the attrition rate, we need to build up the police department, but, again that is something that every police department in the United States is dealing with at this time.”

Chief Tracy argues under previous leadership in Delaware, he worked to retain officers under local control, and he say his is committed to doing the same in St. Louis.

“You never surrender. You’ve got to keep positive. We will get past this. I promised that to my police officers. I promised that to my union that we’re going the right direction. For that, I’m used to local control, so therefore, I’ve seen success with it and that’s where actually I stand,” said Tracy. “I think leadership matters. I’m going to be working with the unions on some of their concerns and with that I think we can turn this around.”

The Ethical Society of Police also testified in support of state-control over the police department, and they issued the following statement:

The Ethical Society of Police is proud to support Senate Bill 78. Returning the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department back under state control is paramount to the brave men and women in uniform and the citizens and residents we protect and serve. The decade-long experiment of local control has failed. For too long, the focus of local control has been the focus of controlling budgets rather than prioritizing the fundamental changes needed to improve the department. As a result, more energy is spent on localized debates over police presence in various communities within the city rather than supporting the men and women who do the job. State control is not about protecting the profession. It’s about protecting the people who work in the profession; those who don the badge stand up for what is right in the City of St. Louis and our great state. The Ethical Society of Police extends its unwavering support and is proud to have worked hand in hand with Senator Nick Schroer on this vital piece of legislation. We thank him for his continued hard work and dedication to law enforcement with Senate Bill 78.

News 4 reached out to the mayor’s office for her thoughts on the legislation. A spokesperson tells us she has never used the term defunding the police nor advocated for it.

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