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St. Louis County Council calls for investigation into MetroLink policing

A MetroLink train
File Photo | St. Louis Public Radio
MetroLink is up and running following a crash in Pagedale Wednesday. (St. Louis Public Radio)

Updated at 9 a.m. July 26 with more details — There will be an investigation into whether the St. Louis County officers assigned to patrol MetroLink stations and trains violated any laws, the St. Louis County Council decided Tuesday on the heels of three reports by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

The council passed the resolution on a 5-1 vote, with most members making it clear they support the police department and simply want to get to the truth. 

The stories, published since Saturday, showed officers repeatedly covering up cameras in a room at the North Hanley MetroLink station and appearing to lie about patrolling the platforms.

Under an agreement signed in May, a St. Louis County police captain is in charge of public safety on MetroLink. That same agreement also tried to give officers from the three departments that patrol the system — St. Louis, St. Louis County, and St. Clair County sheriffs — the authority to make arrests anywhere. Under the nonbinding deal, MetroLink security officers are mainly in charge of fare enforcement.

Police Chief Jon Belmar told St. Louis Public Radio on Monday that Rich Zott, the director of public safety for the Bi-State Development Agency, which runs the mass transit system, didn’t tell him about the problems in a recent meeting. Zott countered that he didn’t feel comfortable bringing up the issues in a large meeting and that Belmar rejected attempts to meet in private.

Councilwoman Hazel Erby, one of the resolution’s sponsors, explained before casting her vote that she was of two minds. The University City Democrat was angered by the accusations in part because she feared it would hurt the reputations of officers who weren’t involved.

“My support for this resolution has nothing to do with the quality of the police officers that we have,” she said. “I just feel that we owe it to our citizens to do an investigation to find out why this happened and make sure that it does not happen again.”

Councilman Mark Harder, a Republican from Ballwin, said it was important the council’s investigation be conducted by an outside person or agency.

The only “no’’ vote was cast by Councilman Pat Dolan. The Democrat from Richmond Heights said he suspected that the accusations were based on false information and politically motivated.

The police department is conducting its own investigation, which led St. Louis County Police Association President Joe Patterson to question why a second one was needed, doubting the council’s probe would reach a different result.

“It doesn’t make a lot of sense,” Patterson said. “I think this was political showboating by the council and little more than that.”

More on McCulloch pension debate

The council also gave first-round approval to a bill aimed at stripping County Prosecutor Bob McCulloch of much of his county pension when he retires, because he also qualifies for a state pension. Full debate is expected next week. 

St. Louis County Prosecutor Bob McCulloch and St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar announce on March 15, 2015, the arrest of suspect Jeffrey Williams in shooting of police
Credit File photo | Wiley Price | St. Louis American
St. Louis County Prosecutor Bob McCulloch.

Several council members indicated they were undecided because of additional information provided by McCulloch and his lawyer, John Hessel, at a committee meeting before Tuesday’s full council meeting.

The two men told the committee that the new legislation is based on inaccurate information published by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and cannot apply to McCulloch during his current term.

Hessel and McCulloch disparaged the newspaper story, published July 8, which highlighted the council’s changes to boost the future pension for the position of prosecuting attorney. Hessel and McCulloch said the 2016 measure doesn’t go into effect until 2019 — after next year’s election when McCulloch’s current term ends. Therefore, McCulloch won’t get the boost unless he runs and wins re-election.

Hessel also told the council that its new bill to cut the pension even further can’t apply to McCulloch because the law bars reducing someone’s pension once they are vested.  Before 2016, he had been covered by a provision that cut his pension by only one-third if he collected the state pension as well.

The new bill would reduce the county pension by the entire amount of the state pension, which was a special allocation set up by state lawmakers in 1989 for prosecuting or circuit attorneys who serve at least 12 years in their post.

St. Louis Public Radio reporter Rachel Lippmann contributed to this report.

Follow Jo on Twitter: @jmannies

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