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Missouri Republican Lawmakers Want To Stop Any Defunding Of Police

State Rep. Nick Schroer, R-O'Fallon, speaks to reporters on June 2, 2021, at the St. Louis Police Officers Association headquarters in southwest St. Louis. Schroer wants to enact penalities f
Jason Rosenbaum
St. Louis Public Radio
State Rep. Nick Schroer, R-O'Fallon, speaks to reporters on Wednesday at the St. Louis Police Officers Association headquarters in southwest St. Louis. Schroer wants to enact penalties for defunding police departments.

Some Missouri state lawmakers want to have a special session to prevent cities from shifting money from law enforcement to social service programs.

But critics of the move contend that Republicans are merely pandering to their base, while adding that relatively recent initiatives that raised sales taxes for public safety haven’t been particularly effective at causing crime to go down.

A group of Republican lawmakers held a press conference on Wednesday at the St. Louis Police Officers Association headquarters asking Gov. Mike Parson to call a special session to enact penalties against cities that cut funding for police and send it elsewhere.

Rep. Nick Schroer of O’Fallon said he would want the special session to figure out what the actual punishment would be for cities that embark on such a move. He pointed out that Texas recently enacted ameasure that restricted cities from receiving more property taxes if they cut law enforcement spending under certain circumstances.

“There’s several different options out there,” Schroer said. “Just like we’ve seen in other special sessions, many people will file different bills. Let the vetting process occur on the House and Senate floor — and may the best version make it to the governor’s desk.”

Schroer said the special session call is in response to situations in Kansas City and St. Louis. In Kansas City, Mayor Quinton Lucas backed a measure moving $42 million from the police budget to a separate fundthat could be used for community engagement, outreach, prevention, intervention and other public services.

Schroer also criticized St. Louis leaders like Mayor Tishaura Jones who want to shift $4 million allocated for vacant policepositions to affordable housing, more support for the city’s homeless community, services for victims of crime and a new unit in the city’s legal department that would allow the Civil Rights Enforcement Agency to prosecute violations. That plan has yet to be approved by the St. Louis Board of Aldermen.

The money has primarily been used to pay for officer overtime.

“We’re truly worried that by taking resources away from our law enforcement officers, especially when they need it the most, violent crime will skyrocket,” Schroer said.

Parson spokeswoman Kelli Jones said that a decision on a special session has not been made. She added that Parson, a former sheriff, “believes in law and order, which means there must be brave men and women in uniform willing to enforce the law and protect victims.” She added that "any effort to defund the police is dangerous and irresponsible."

In a statement, the St. Louis mayor criticized the special session call — saying Schroer is “chasing clout while I'm chasing solutions.”

“St. Louis voters elected me to put the public back in public safety, and I'm willing to work with elected leaders who are ready to have hard conversations about the deep-rooted problems we face,” Jones said, adding that she invites people like Schroer to tour north St. Louis to see her crime plan in action. “But the proposed special session would be government overreach and a waste of taxpayer dollars at a time when all of us can least afford it.”

Rep. Rasheen Aldridge
File photo | Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio
State Rep. Rasheen Aldridge, D-St. Louis, said the region already spends lots of money on police — but that hasn't led to less crime.

Taxes for public safety

Other detractors of the special session pointed out that the St. Louis region already spends a lot of money on police — funds that haven’t been shown to reduce crime.

St. Louis and St. Louis County voters adopted half-cent sales taxes marketed for improving public safety in 2017. According to city and county budget officials, St. Louis has taken in and appropriated since 2017 more than $57 million from the tax through the third quarter of fiscal 2021. And from 2017 to the end of 2020, St. Louis County brought in more than $159 million in revenue from the tax, spent $139.6 million and has $20.1 million carried over into the next budget year.

Not all of that money went toward police. But some was used for things like salary increases and new equipment.

“The notion that we haven’t funded policing or public safety is not true,” said state Rep. Rasheen Aldridge, D-St. Louis. “At least in the city, the majority of our budget goes toward public safety. We pass taxes for law enforcement. And we’re getting the same results: high crime. Still a huge distrust between communities and policing. We’ve got to do things differently.”

Jeff Roorda, business manager for the St. Louis Police Officers Association, said while some of the sales tax hike went toward salary increases, “that didn’t keep us up with neighboring departments.”

Wildwood Mayor Jim Bowlin said money from the 2017 sales tax increases was helpful for his city, especially since the St. Louis County Police Department patrols the municipality. But he said he’s starting to see increases in petty theft in Wildwood and contended decreased funding would make those problems worse.

“The first thing we hear from a resident that had their home or a car broken into is where’s the police?” Bowlin said. “It takes money to pay those salaries and protect them.”

Tishaura O. Jones is sworn in as St. Louis City's 47th mayor.
File photo I David Kovaluk
St. Louis Public Radio
Even if a special session doesn't materialize, the legislative push to restrict municipalities from shifting law enforcement money to other endeavors could be a test of St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones' relationships with Missouri lawmakers.

Special session logjam

Parson will almost certainly call a special session on enacting a medical provider tax that funds Medicaid and congressional redistricting. He’s also facing special session calls for election-related items, such as reviving the state’s government-issued photo ID requirement.

Sen. Brian Williams, D-University City, said it doesn’t make a lot of sense to have a special session on this particular issue when the legislature already approved police and criminal justice legislation in the regular session. Williams helped pass a bill that includes major police accountability measures, such as creating a database of police-involved killings and efforts to prevent officers with problematic records from jumping from police department to police department.

“We could potentially see changes in our region when it comes to policing, as well as addressing crime,” Williams said. “Using fear tactics to scare folks and make them afraid of either the police or feel like they have to pick a side and create this divisive environment can only create more problems than solutions.”

Both Williams and Aldridge added that even if there isn’t a special session on this issue, it could re-emerge in the regular session — and be a test for Jones, who has touted her relationships with state legislators stemming from her tenure in the Missouri House.

“We have a new mayor, and we need to give her an opportunity to lead — and not criticize her from Day One,” Williams said. “She’ll get a full session in January as the mayor of the city of St. Louis to work with myself and other members of the legislature and try to work toward productive and constructive policies.”

Added Aldridge: “One thing I know about TJ, she’s not here for the hype. She’s here for the results.”

Follow Jason on Twitter: @jrosenbaum

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