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After decades of contemplation and debate, a group known as Better Together is recommending an end to the “Great Divorce” between St. Louis and St. Louis County.Better Together is proposing an ambitious plan to create a unified metro government and police department and limit municipalities' ability to levy sales taxes. The plan would be decided through a statewide vote.Proponents contend it will scrape away layers of local government that has been holding the St. Louis region back. Opponents believe the plan will create an unwieldy and large centralized government that could be implemented against the will of city and county residents.

Police Researchers Hear What St. Louisans Think Works — And Doesn't — With Their Police

Chuck Wexler (in yellow tie), the executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, leads a small group discussion on policing in St. Louis on January 7, 2015.
Rachel Lippmann | St. Louis Public Radio

Residents of the St. Louis area are getting a chance to answer the question, what does your ideal police department look like?

That's one of the main areas of interest for the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF), which is conducting a study on policing practices in the region for the advocacy group Better Together. The Forum held the first of four town hall meetings Wednesday night at a union hall in midtown to hear what residents think is working, and what can be done better. 

About 70 people gathered in the auditorium of the headquarters of the Sheet Metal Workers Local 36 in Midtown to hear a brief introduction before breaking into three groups for discussion.

The region has 60 municipal police departments, as well as forces in the city of  St. Louis and St. Louis County. Many participants, like Saint Louis University graduate student Dane Muckler, said many of those departments simply can't afford high-quality officers.

"We need to raise the baseline level of quality in the policing in St. Louis," Muckler said.

Participants also wanted a higher level of transparency from police departments, and said officers should live in and engage with the communities they patrol.

PERF agreed to do the research before Michael Brown was shot and killed in August. But its executive director, Chuck Wexler, said he understands that Ferguson is now an essential part of the conversations he wants to have.

"That issue becomes part of the discussion, it becomes part of the narrative," he said. "Things are sort of measured against what happened here. The opportunity is that people want things to get better, and I think that’s the exciting part."

There will be three additional public hearings. Wexler said PERF's report should be finished by April.

Town Hall Meetings

  • 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 8, at the Lodges Des Peres (1050 Des Peres Road, 63131)
  • 6 to 8 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 14, at Greater St. Mark Missionary Baptist Church (9950 Glen Owen Drive, 63136)
  • 6 to 8 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 15, location to be determined.

Follow Rachel Lippmann on Twitter: @rlippmann

Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.