Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Good Governance for the St. Louis Police

"In questions of power, then, let no more be said of confidence in man, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the Constitution." -- Thomas Jefferson

Last November the people of St. Louis voted to return control of the St. Louis Police Department to the city of St. Louis. Jamilah Nasheed and Speaker of the House Steve Tilley introduced HB 71 which would return local control by striking the existing state statute that establishes the Board of Police Commissioners in the city of St. Louis, but leaves intact the Board of Police Commissioners in Kansas City. The five member board which includes the mayor would be replaced by the structure defined in the St. Louis City Charter. Instead of the Police Chief answering to the board of commissioners, the chief would answer to the Police Commissioner who answers to the Director of Public Safety who reports to the Mayor.

This governing structure is inadequate for the city of St. Louis. First, the addition of two layers of beauracracy between the Mayor and Police Chief guarantees that the Mayor will never be held accountable for problems with the police department. Since those bureaucrats serve at the Mayor's discretion, they are easily scapegoated and dismissed in the event of bad press. Second, eliminating the board would politicize the police department. The state controled police board helps to ward off the political influence exerted by the city's aldermen.

Now I want to contrast this with the core argument put forth by the other side:
If one thinks the people of St Louis City can be trusted with their own PD then they should be sufficient oversight. If one believes that the people of St Louis City can't be trusted with oversight of their own PD, then what oversight would work?
I've seen that repeatedly from United for Missouri. They're implying that you must not trust the voters of St. Louis if you do not support HB 71. The irony is that supporters of the bill, like United for Missouri, have repeatedly shown that they do not trust St. Louis voters. First, they did this by circumscribing with statute the police pension fund. Apparently, United for Missouri does not trust the voters of St. Louis and their elected Alderman, like Quincy Troupe, with the pension fund. This past Thursday, an amendment was added to the bill making it a felony for police officers to make arrests at gun shows if the officer is in plain clothes. The purpose is to prevent the sort of stings that anti-gun zealots like Mayor Bloomberg in NYC have tried, but again this amendment demonstrates that supporters of HB 71 do not trust the voters of St. Louis and their duly elected Mayor.

In the previous paragraph I am poking fun at United for Missouri because I know that they do trust the voters of St. Louis; however, they temper that trust with legislation designed to foster good governance. This is an implicit indication on their part that the state does have an obligation to define good public institutions. This principal is also implied in Article 4 Section 4 of the US Constitution which guarantees a republican form of government to the states.

My chief complaint about HB 71 is that it fails to do that. It fails to define a reasonable path to local control and merely removes the board of police commissioners causing control to revert to the city charter (see my recommendation at the end of this post). The resulting mess will take years to sort out (for instance, do the St. Louis Airport Police get folded into the St. Louis city police force). It also creates lengthy bureaucratic hierarchies that prevent elected officials from being held accountable.

1 comment:

Matt said...

I find it quite ironic that they want to strip the ability of STLMPD officers to lobby the Legislature in uniform when we are going to see a number of uniformed officers from Hazelwood, Creve Coeur, and perhaps St. Peters tomorrow who are going to show up to lobby against SB 16 (Red Light Camera Ban). What is different about those officers and Police Chiefs that they should have more rights than our City Officers??? The folks testifying against the bill tomorrow will also likely being doing it on taxpayer time, whereas the City Officers are likely giving of their own free time to advocate.