Could the battle for local control of the St. Louis police department be the catalytic event to trigger major structural changes to local government in St. Louis? For years, there has been a struggle over control over the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department.
Since the Civil War, the department has been controlled by a board appointed by the governor. And since at least the 1960s, St. Louis leaders, have been fighting to bring control back to the city. Now their call for local control has been joined by Civic Progress and Focus St. Louis.
This year, for the first time since the Civil War, a bill has passed in the Missouri House to return local control of the police department to the City of St. Louis. The Police Officers Association vehemently opposes this effort and has many political allies, both within and outside of the city limits.
The Police Officers Association holds that returning local control to the city will result in two things they don't like: the possibility of political interference with the police department from St. Louis city elected officials, and, of greater concern, local control of their pension system.
The Police Officers Association has an ally in a state senator from University City, Maria Chappelle-Nadal. Senator Nadal opposes local control.
In the past few days, Senator Nadal has raised two interesting ideas. The first was to insert language into Senate version of the local control bill to reduce the number of aldermen in the City of St. Louis from 28 to 14. And today the news is reporting that Senator Nadal is proposing a bill to call for a vote by citizens for the re-entry of the City of St. Louis into St. Louis County.
A return of the City of St. Louis into St. Louis County increases the liklihood of there one day being a region-wide metropolitan police department on the Missouri side of the St. Louis area. Such a system has the potential to save significant cost to Missouri taxpayers.
While STL Rising strongly favors having a local city police department in the City of St. Louis, where neighbors get to personally know their local police department representatives, the idea of a region-wide metropolitan police force is worth serious consideration.
And if all of this work by local leaders results in further streamlined yet strenghtened local government, then perhaps these will be remembered as times of great progress for the St. Louis region.