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Whatever happened to local control?

The logo of the St. Louis Metropolitan Police displayed on a patrol vehicle.
(St. Louis Public Radio)
The logo of the St. Louis Metropolitan Police displayed on a patrol vehicle.

Missouri lawmakers last year came the closest they’d ever come to restoring local control over the St. Louis Police Department, which has been under state control since the Civil War.

A bill that would have given control of the department back to the city passed the House, but Senate leaders refused to pass it unless they got their way on tax credit reform, which didn’t happen. This year, the local control battle never got off the ground in Jefferson City. 

St. Louis Public Radio’s Marshall Griffin talked with Mo. state Senator Joseph Keaveny (D, St. Louis) to find out why.

Here's a summary of their conversation:

Keaveny:  Each time I filed the bill for the two previous years, we’ve had kind of a unified support in St. Louis for this local control measure, for a local-controlled police department.  There’s been a ballot initiative filed, (which) will be on the ballot in November, and now some of the groups favor the initiative more than they favored the bill…there was no reason for me to bring (a bill) forward.

Last year when we talked about this, there was a lot of concern about the ballot initiative and what that would put into place as opposed to (a bill)…have some of those concerns been alleviated?

Keaveny:  Personally, I think this ought to be a bill in the Missouri legislature…it got tied up with unrelated issues and we just couldn’t get it through…now that we’re pursuing (a ballot initiative), I think that’s the way that we need to go.  Why do we want to come back here and beat our head against the wall and have it held up again (when) we can just take care of it in November?

So the GOP leadership let you know that last year’s fate would be this year’s fate (also)?

Keaveny:  No, they never did say that, but they never said that the prior two years, either…so why take the chance?  Let’s just get this thing done and let’s move on.

(State) Rep. (Jamilah) Nasheed was always the carrier (on the House side)…she decided not to file a bill this year, that it was going to originate in the Senate?

Keaveny:  That’s correct…the original plan was to have it come out of the Senate (and) then bring it over to the House and rubber-stamp it…but things change in politics, and she has not filed a bill there…so we’ll just wait until November and let it go to a vote of the people.

Worst-case scenario:  The ballot initiative is not passed (by Missouri voters) in November…what happens then?  Will you try the legislative route again?

Keaveny:  Most definitely…some of the Senators that were blocking it the last two years will be gone (in 2013)…this is an issue that is not going to go away…there’s no reason that we have to have a governor-appointed board running the St. Louis Police Department…I’ll bring it up as long as it’s necessary.

Is there a fear that if the ballot initiative fails and you go the legislative route again, that it could become a bargaining chip again?

Keaveny:  There’s always that danger…the more we have these discussions, the more that people realize the situation…they realize how untenable it is and how it really should be addressed.

Marshal was a political reporter for St. Louis Public Radio until 2018.