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St. Louis Police chief speaks against bill establishing state control of department

St. Louis Chief of Police Robert Tracy, center, flanked by City Counselor Sheena Hamilton, right, and Mayor Tishaura Jones, left, announce the city is suing Hyundai and Kia over faulty technology allows the vehicles to be more easily stolen on Monday, March 27, 2023, at City Hall in downtown St. Louis.
Brian Munoz
St. Louis Public Radio
St. Louis Police Chief Robert Tracy, pictured last month, told a state Senate committee hearing Wednesday that local control of police departments is "the only type of control I know."

When St. Louis Police Chief Robert Tracy appeared at a Senate committee hearing to first testify against a bill that would place the department under a state-appointed board, he had only been on the job for a little over two weeks.

Testifying against the House version of that bill before the same committee on Wednesday, Tracy said he now has more to say in opposition to removing local control.

“I've had success under local control. It's the only type of control I know, even with some bureaucratic things that happen in each city. But I also know there's ways to overcome them, when you put the right leadership in place,” Tracy said.

Under the legislation, which the House passed in early March, the governor would appoint four members to a board of police commissioners. The mayor of St. Louis would also serve on that board.

Rep. Brad Christ, R-St. Louis County, who is the sponsor of the House bill, said during the Senate hearing he feels this bill addresses a public safety issue.

“This is again about restoring order to the basics of law enforcement so they can perform their job and put in a crime plan to get this back on track,” Christ said.

Tracy said that even in the short time he’s been in the job, there has been a change in the right direction.

“We're down 10% in homicides, and we're also down 30% from where we were two years ago. Our clearance rate is above the national average with homicides,” Tracy said.

The push to remove local control of the department comes a little over a decade after Missouri voters approved a statewide measure returning control to St. Louis. The measure went into effect in 2013 and marked the first time in over 150 years that the mayor’s office held control over the department.

Those in support of the legislation have repeatedly said one goal is to remove politics from policing. That was reiterated Wednesday by Jane Dueker, who is a lobbyist for several police unions that support state control.

“There should be no politicizing of the police department. The mayor's office — public safety — they should not be meddling,” Dueker said.

Tracy said that while the legislature may be concerned about political interference, every time he’s engaged with Mayor Tishaura Jones or staff, he’s been assured he has their “full support and their faith and ability to do this job.”

He also said he’s looked at data on other jurisdictions under state control.

“Even under state control, they have challenges in crime,” Tracy said. “So, I don't think it's so much about local-state control, it's about the leadership and being allowed to do the job and work with the community and then also get the support to the police officers.”

Kansas City is currently the only jurisdiction in Missouri that is under the control of a state Board of Police Commissioners.

Sen. Nick Schroer, R-O’Fallon, who is the sponsor of the Senate bill, asked about some of the plans Tracy has for the department and why he couldn’t accomplish those goals under state control as opposed to local control.

While Tracy said he would police the same way, whether under local or state control, ultimately, he doesn’t know what it's like to do his job under state control.

“I'm asking for an opportunity to do my job. And if you see through my track record, I've had success on that,” Tracy said.

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