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St. Louis County Emergency Fund Tapped For Police; Clergy Meet With Stenger

Councilwoman Colleen Wasinger speaks with a member of the St. Louis County Police Department on Tuesday. The council approved transferring money from the county emergency fund to pay for police overtime accrued during the Ferguson unrest.
Jason Rosenbaum, St. Louis Public Radio

The St. Louis County Council approved a measure on Wednesday transferring several million dollars to the county police department for its work during nearly four months of protests over Michael Brown’s shooting death. 

The total transferred from the county’s emergency fund came to approximately $3.4 million. More than $2.5 million of that would pay for overtime officers accrued during the aftermath of Michael Brown’s shooting death. The rest of the money would go toward supplies, food and clothing. 

The money transfer passed without opposition during an unusual Wednesday meeting. It was a make-up of sorts for last week when the council decided not to meet one day after a grand jury decided to not indict former Ferguson Police officer Darren Wilson.

During Tuesday’s regularly scheduled meeting, some in the audience harshly criticized how police had handled protesters in the aftermath of Brown’s death. For instance, Molly Greider took issue with St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar’s comments on a November edition of St. Louis on the Air that police didn’t use teargas or pepper balls “on peaceful protesters. We used that on unfortunate criminal activity that spun out of the protest.” 

“My criminal record consists of one speeding ticket for going 11 miles over – and it’s from 2010,” Greider said. “I’m not really, you know, a thug, a criminal. I’m not violent. So I’m not entirely sure how I got teargased.”

Ladue resident Susan Clark said she was upset that the members of the council haven’t spoken out that much about what transpired during the protests.

“I don’t know where you all have been,” Clark said. “But we need leaders in this community. We don’t have them. We have a governor who has instituted a state of emergency that didn’t manage to protect anybody or anything that needed protecting. We have mayors and police departments who can’t control their cities and their towns and who can’t talk to the people that live there.” 

Florissant resident Ashley Bernaugh and Ladue resident Susan Clark speak during the council’s public forum section.
Credit Jason Rosenbaum, St. Louis Public Radio
Florissant resident Ashley Bernaugh and Ladue resident Susan Clark speak during the council’s public forum section.

“This is an untenable situation,” she added. “You are our elected leaders. Lead.”

Councilwoman Hazel Erby, D-University City, said after the public comment period ended that she too was upset about the decision to not indict Wilson. She questioned why the National Guard wasn’t in Ferguson on the night of the decision to stop looters and arsonists.

And she added, “For us to go through our daily routine after what just happened in St. Louis County and us not say anything is not doing our jobs.”

“Last week, I hurt,” Erby said. “I hurt at what I saw happening to my community. I was sitting there watching on TV and I saw the fires. And I kept thinking ‘Where is the National Guard that was out? Where are they?’ It just appeared it was happening and there was no one. Not a fireman. Not the National Guard. Not anyone.

Councilwoman Hazel Erby, D-University City, speaks after the council's public forum on Tuesday.

“I think I posted on Facebook ‘Where is the National Guard?’” Erby said. “And somebody said in Clayton. At the Galleria. Plaza Frontenac. I don’t understand.”

No other councilperson besides Erby spoke about the grand jury decision on Tuesday.

Metropolitan Congregations United pushes Stenger

Before Wednesday’s meeting, a large group of religious leaders marched from a library in Clayton to the St. Louis County Administration Building.

St. Louis County Executive-elect Steve Stenger said his transition into his new office is going much more smoothly than last week.
Credit Rebecca Smith | St. Louis Public Radio
St. Louis County Executive-elect Steve Stenger

Metropolitan Congregations United organized the march in part to get St. Louis County Executive-elect Steve Stenger to commit to certain policy goals. That includes diversifying police departments and instituting “community policing.” The group also wants Stenger to eliminate “debtors’ prisons,” a reference to municipal courts that saddle low-income residents with steep fines for traffic violations.

“He has to show evidence that he will do it once he’s in office,” said the Rev. John Welch, a Pittsburgh theologian who was part of the march. “There are no promises that he will do it. But if he doesn’t do it, what he needs to understand is that [religious groups] will continue to put pressure until changes are done within the policing system.”

Stenger met with a group of the religious leaders after the council meeting. He said he’s trying to figure out a time to meet with them more extensively and added that he’s receptive to many of their policy proposals.

“I can commit to them and I can commit to everyone in our community that the issues that they have raised will be on the forefront as we begin the administration on Jan. 1,” Stenger said. 

Rev. John Welch of Pittsburgh talks to reporters before a march in Clayton.
Credit Jason Rosenbaum, St. Louis Public Radio
Rev. John Welch of Pittsburgh talks to reporters before a march in Clayton.

While Stenger emphasized that the St. Louis Board of Police Commissioners will have the final say on policy changes, he said there are things he can do as county executive to bring about change.

“What the county executive is appointment authority for police commissioners and I believe that I can ensure that police board members that are appointed in the future have these issues in mind and in heart,” Stenger said. “I believe I can address those issues with (our existing police board members)  in a meaningful way. And I hope in an influential way.”

Carolyn Randazzo, a retired teacher who worked in the Ferguson-Florissant School District, met with Stenger after the meeting. She said he “appears to be in agreement with us with what we’re advocating for.

“He has the power to put things in place and support policy and propose policy that can make these things happen,” Randazzo said. “So I think it’s important for him to be on board with it and do what he can to come up with solutions for not only Ferguson and St. Louis, but … things that can work across the country.” 

Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.