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Police group seeks local control via the ballot, not in the state Capitol

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Dec. 2, 2011 - For the St. Louis Police Officers Association, the third time is not the charm.

The association announced Thursday that it is opposing the third legislative attempt in a year to persuade the Missouri General Assembly to approve local control of the St. Louis Police Department, which has been governed by the state since 1861.

Instead, the group -- which backed this year's earlier legislative efforts -- said it will support the proposed 2012 initiative-petition proposal advanced by the group, "A Safer Missouri,'' which is funded by wealthy financier Rex Sinquefield.

The police association said the initiative's latest wording "reflects months of negotiations" between the association and A Safer Missouri. The police group for decades has opposed local control

"Under the compromise plan, the city will control the police department operations and budgets, but benefits, pensions and residencyrequirements would remain under state control," the association said. "Political interference by elected officials was also prohibited by law under the compromise."

The compromise came after the General Assembly rejected a similarly worded bill last spring and during this fall's special session. The House twice approved the proposal, but the Senate twice killed it during a broader battle over an economic development bill.

"It's settled," said association business manager Jeff Roorda, a former legislator. "The city has what it has been looking for, local control, and police officers have the protections in place that we were so concerned about. We have a clean compromise that will be going before the voters of Missouri in the form of aballot initiative. Let the people decide." 

The association and A Safer Missouri reached an agreement on a compromise, prompting Safer Missouri to withdraw proposed initiatives with wording that the association had challenged in court.

"There were some unwanted, superfluous provisions in the failed compromise legislation under consideration during the regular and special session that were added in by lawmakers with their own ideas," Roorda said. "These provisions are out of the new ballot initiative and we simply don't have an appetite for exposing the statutes that affect our members' livelihoods to the legislative process when we have a clean ballot compromise on city control.

"The legislative gridlock on our compromise drove us into discussions with A Safer Missouri and there is no reason for us to take ourchances with the legislature again, "Roorda said. "We will oppose any city control bill that comes before the legislature."

State Sen. Joe Keaveny, D-St. Louis, filed a bill Thursday that is similar to the measure that died during this fall's special session. Roorda said the police association "worked closely with Keaveny to craft that bill but in the end it contained several unwanted provisions that had been heaped onto the bill in the legislative process."

Added Roorda: "Senator Keaveny did his level best to keep his bill clean but it only takes one Senator with a penchantf or filibustering and an axe to grind to endanger the benefits of our members and we're simply not willing to take that kind of chance with our members' futures."

"Our supporters in the Capitol understand ourconcerns. We tried to resolve this legislatively and they tried to help. That didn't work," said Roorda. "Now we have a path to a clean, voter-approvedcompromise. That's the path we're taking."

Jo Mannies is a freelance journalist and former political reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.