Jamilah Nasheed and Steve Tilley's local control bill, HB 71, was "perfected" Thursday and is scheduled to be voted on next Tuesday. The bill would strike the existing state statute that establishes the five member police board in St. Louis. As a result, control of the police department would revert to the structure specified in the St. Louis city charter.
A little history sheds a lot of light on the issue of Local Control of the St. Louis Police Department and why the pending legislation in Jefferson City is a dereliction of duty on the part of the GOP leadership, and Speaker Tilley in particular.
In 1861, the Confederacy sympathizing Governor of Missouri, Claiborne Jackson, seized control of the police in both St. Louis and Kansas City out of fear that they would be used by the Union. St. Louis and Kansas City both sympathized with the Union. Jackson's power grab was a clear abuse of power and violation of the principals of local governmental control. It needs to be undone, but not in the negligent fashion currently being proposed.
Most municipalities in the Show Me state are part of a county. County government provides a check to balance the police powers of their subordinate municipalities. The problem is an ancient one: who watches the watchmen, who polices the police. A few weeks ago I posted video of Gary Fuhr talking about the role of counties in balancing municipal police powers. In 1876, the people of the city of St. Louis voted to leave the county of St. Louis. St. Louis city is not part of a county; therefore, there is no offsetting check to balance the city's police powers. Tilley's support for Local Control and his parliamentary maneuvers to pass it show a disregard for good governance.
If HB 71 passes and Local Control is returned to the city of St. Louis, control of the police will revert to the structure specified in the St. Louis city charter. Ah, the city charter, ancient hallowed document that's almost a hundred years old. The charter was adopted in 1914. The police were under state control in 1914. Nonetheless, the charter provides that the Police Department be directed by a Police Commissioner who serves at the discretion of the Director of Public Safety an existing position effectively putting two additional layers of appointed, patronage bureaucrats between the elected Mayor and the police chief.
A setup like this was tried once before in KC. It empowered the Pendergast machine and was eventually undone when Missouri's Attorney General stepped in to clean out the corruption. This structure is also similar to the setup in the Windy City. Of course, Chicago has a bit of a reputation for corruption. The patronage system there probably helped misplace the recordings of Rahm Emmanuel.
What is lost if HB 71 passes are the four St. Louis civilians on the police board. Local Control will shield the Mayor from accountability with bureaucracy and remove citizen oversight of the police while adding a plum patronage position for the Mayor to appoint. In short, Jefferson City is trying to cut St. Louis city loose to sink or swim on its own; however, one party machine politics in the city combined with a poor governing structure will ensure that the city stews in its own political juices.
Each successively higher level of government, each larger governmental jurisdiction, has a moral obligation of good governance to its smaller jurisdictional subdivisions. The problem with the pending Local Control legislation is that it abdicates this responsibility. That is why Steve Tilley's support of Local Control is a dereliction of duty. As speaker of the Missouri House, he has a duty to "do no harm", a duty to ensure that the governing structure of the police department has minimal political influence, appropriate civilian oversight, and Mayoral accountability while the police themselves are unhindered by politics in their public safety role.
A Path to Local Control
The St. Louis Tea Party has not come to a consensus on local control for the city; however, I do have an idea of how to get there from here. I'm opposed to the pending legislation because, like Governor Claiborne Jackson's seizure of the police department and the city-county split, I think it's ill conceived and poorly thought out legislation that will have significant negative consequences. My first priority in a return of local control is to define a workable system in advance of removing state control. Here's what I would like to see.
St. Louis county's police force is currently overseen by a police board. I would like to see that board granted jurisdiction over St. Louis city's police department. This provides the check on the city's police power that offsets the check currently provided by the state. Obviously, the St. Louis county board would need to be modified to include city representation. Ideally that would include both St. Louis civilian and Mayoral roles on the county board. Because at least three jurisdictions are involved (St. Louis city, county, and the state of Missouri), this will be a politically hard road to take; however, there is interest in the area for a city-county merger. I see this as a down payment on that merger.
In fact, I believe that a city-county merger will be more successful if it is orchestrated in a piecemeal fashion like this. An incremental approach enables the county and the city to consider the pluses and minuses of each step of the integration.
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