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Council moves forward with municipal police standards bill

St. Louis Police Chief Jon Belmar joined Stenger on Wednesday in announcing the minimum standards proposal.
File photo | Jason Rosenbaum I St. Louis Public Radio
St. Louis Police Chief Jon Belmar joins St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger in announcing the minimum standards proposal. A bill implementing that plan initially passed the County Council on Tuesday.

The St. Louis County Council took a big step toward prompting municipal police departments to adhere to certain standards, a proposal that’s bringing about warnings of litigation from the county’s cities and towns.

Earlier this fall, Stenger publicized a plan that would prompt municipal police departments to adhere to training, hiring and operational standards. The county executive’s office could effectively dissolve departments that don’t meet the benchmarks and prompt them to contract with another law enforcement agency. (Both the county executive’s office and county council would also have the right to review policing contracting arrangements between cities.)

(Click here to read more about the police standards proposal.)

The police standards legislation initially passed the council on Tuesday by a voice vote. The Council made some alterations to the original proposal, including modifying how municipalities could appeal any decision made about its police department.

For his part, Stenger has said the standards would facilitate better law enforcement coverage across the county. 

“It’s what I’ve said all along: It is going to give all St. Louis Countians equal access to quality law enforcement, regardless of where they live or travel,” Stenger said on Tuesday.

But the legislation has run into opposition from leaders of county municipalities. They contend that Stenger does not have the authority to tell police departments how to operate.

“It would demonstrate a complete disrespect for the county charter, as well as a disrespect for the rights of the people of this region to govern themselves in a meaningful way through municipal government free from the county government overstepping its boundaries,” said Shrewsbury Mayor Felicity Buckley in remarks during the council’s public forum section.

Some officials -- including St. Louis County Municipal League executive director Pat Kelly – have signaled that there would be a lawsuit against the county if Stenger signs the legislation into law. He reiterated that threat on Tuesday.

“Our municipalities stand prepared to fight it legally,” Kelly said. “If it’s passed, we don’t think you have the legal authority to do that. And that would be a disservice to all the residents in St. Louis County.”

Still, Stenger has said a county charter amendment regulating health provides a legal avenue to proceed with the police standards proposal.

“And you know, from a very practical standpoint as the county executive, I see a problem, an issue, a serious issue that our community has had for decades,” Stenger said last week. “And I believe it needs to be addressed. And I believe that it is only fair and that is only just that every St. Louis Countian deserves to have equal access to law enforcement anywhere in the county – where they live or travel.”

The county council still needs to give final approval to the standards legislation before it goes to Stenger’s desk. 

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