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Missouri House gives initial approval to state control of St. Louis Police Department

Members of the Missouri House of Representatives mingle on Jan. 4 before the start of the legislative session at the Missouri State Capitol in Jefferson City.
Brian Munoz
St. Louis Public Radio
The Missouri House of Representatives, pictured last month, gave first-round approval Wednesday to legislation that would put the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department under a state-appointed board of police commissioners.

The Missouri House has given first-round approval to legislation that would take away local control of the St. Louis Police Department and put it under a state-appointed board of police commissioners.

Members approved the bill on a voice vote on Wednesday. It needs one more vote to move on to the Senate.

If passed and signed by the governor, beginning on Aug. 28 the board would assume control of the police department. The governor would appoint four members to the board. They would serve along with the mayor of St. Louis, who now oversees the department.

Currently, only the Kansas City Police Department is under a state Board of Police Commissioners.

Bill sponsor Rep. Brad Christ, R-St. Louis County, said the intent is to stabilize the police department.

“This bill is an attempt to restore order in a city, in a region, that has been decimated by crime,” Christ said.

Several Democrats spoke in opposition, including Rep. Rasheen Aldridge, D-St. Louis, who is a candidate for the city’s Board of Aldermen.

“Until we address poverty, until we address homelessness, until we address how policies systematically have been holding my community back, we will continue to have crime under state or local control,” Aldridge said.

Rep. Justin Sparks, R-Wildwood, spoke on the need to support the city’s police officers.

“We need them to stay, so we're going to show them that we have their back. This experiment was 11 years in the making, and frankly, the promises have been broken,” Sparks said.

Several organizations representing police officers have spoken in support of the bill, including the St. Louis Police Officers Association.

In 2012, Missouri voters approved a measure that would return control of the police department to St. Louis. The measure went into effect in 2013 and marked the first time in over 150 years that the mayor’s office had authority over the department.

St. Louis would still be responsible for funding its police department under the proposed legislation.

Similar legislation is being considered in the Senate, with new St. Louis Police Chief Robert Tracy speaking against it in committee.

St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones also recently spoke out against state control.

“This is a direct slap in the face to our citizens, because the people closest to the problem are closest to the solution,” Jones said. “And I don't think that they would approve of having a board that's appointed by people in Jefferson City to govern their day-to-day lives.”

Some Democrats supported the legislation, including Rep. Steve Butz, D-St Louis.

“I suggest that the emphasis and the reason to consider voting yes for this bill is the men and women of the St. Louis City Police Department. They strongly support this bill. They testified here,” Butz said.

This bill is another example of the legislature considering action that singles out St. Louis. The House has already passed a bill that would allow the governor to appoint a special prosecutor to address crimes in cities that meet a homicide case threshold.

Currently, only St. Louis meets that threshold, and the bill is widely seen as targeting St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner. She is facing an attempt from Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey to remove her from office.

“You want to take away the prosecutor's control of prosecution, and you want to take away the city's control of their police,” said Rep. Peter Merideth, D-St. Louis. “How do you think the folks that live in St. Louis city, especially the Black folks, are going to feel about that?”

Additionally, the bill bars the board from decreasing the annual salary of members of the police force. It also requires an increase in salary of $7,000 as of July 1, 2024.

Rep. LaKeySha Bosley, D-St. Louis, introduced the amendment that increased the raise in salary from $4,000 to $7,000, though her amendment would have also required the state to pay for those increases. That state responsibility was later stripped out.

Sarah Kellogg is a Missouri Statehouse and Politics Reporter for St. Louis Public Radio and other public radio stations across the state.