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Missouri House passes bill placing St. Louis police department under state board

Police respond to a deadly shooting on Tuesday, Aug. 15, 2023 at Lindell and Spring, just off the campus of St. Louis University, in St. Louis. The shooting left one victim dead, with another person transported off the scene.
Tristen Rouse
St. Louis Public Radio
Police respond to a shooting that left one dead last August in St. Louis' Midtown neighborhood. Legislation that passed the Missouri House would place control of the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department under a board consisting of governor-appointed members and St. Louis' mayor.

Members of the Missouri House of Representatives passed a bill Thursday that would place control of the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department under a state-appointed board.

House members voted 109-36 to approve the measure. It now goes to the Senate.

“This is about supporting public safety and solving a public safety crisis in the St. Louis region that's affecting the entire state,” said Rep. Brad Christ, R-St. Louis County, who sponsored the bill.

While all House Republicans supported the measure, it received only a handful of Democratic votes: 36 Democrats voted no, six in favor and three present.

Under the bill, control of the department would be taken from the mayor’s office and placed under a board of police commissioners appointed by the governor.

The St. Louis mayor would serve on the five-member board.

Currently, only Kansas City’s police department is controlled by a board of police commissioners.

If the bill passes and is signed by Gov. Mike Parson, he would have until Sept. 28 to appoint the commissioners.

Rep. LaKeySha Bosley, D-St. Louis, who spoke against the bill, protested that Republicans spread falsehoods about St. Louis to bolster the bill.

“I know everything that I'm saying is potentially falling on deaf ears because I'm a Democrat, I'm Black, and I'm a woman,” Bosley said. “And I'm from the city of St. Louis, but I'm here to tell you, Mr. Speaker, I am so St. Louis that this bill should die a flaming hot death right here.”

When the bill was up for initial debate on Tuesday, Christ said the goal was to “take the politics out of policing.”

“This is to create a better foundation for SLMPD that has been decimated by an administration, which in turn has decimated St. Louis city with crime,” Christ said.

Bosley said Thursday that the bill is political, despite Christ’s claims to the contrary.

Since 2013, St. Louis has had control of its own police department under a measure approved by Missouri voters in 2012. It marked the first time in over 150 years that the mayor’s office had the authority over the department.

“If you go back and look at the police commission before, when it was in effect, it was absolutely corrupt,” Bosley said.

The passage of the bill this session comes as St. Louis reported its lowest crime rates in a decade earlier this year.

It also comes more than one year after St. Louis hired Police Chief Robert Tracy, who spoke against the measure last year when it was in committee and again this session.

Supporters of the bill include the Ethical Society of Police, a union that represents Black officers, and the St. Louis Police Officers Association.

Rep. Steve Butz, D-St. Louis, one of the Democrats who voted yes on the bill, cited the support from those organizations.

“I implore my fellow city reps to at least consider that request from both the Black officers and the white officers and to allow this commission to assist the mayor and the chief, who will still be the chief, to run a more efficient police department,” Butz said.

A similar bill already in the Senate has yet to be debated on the floor.

Senate President Pro Tem Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, said Thursday he isn’t sure if that legislation would have support from every member in the Republican caucus.

“I'm sure it is a priority of some folks. I don't know that I will call it a universal caucus priority. I think you'll have some Republicans who are going to have some issues with it when it comes to the floor,” Rowden said.

Senate Minority Leader John Rizzo, D-Independence, said he believes Tracy and St. Louis Circuit Attorney Gabe Gore need more time to work without interference.

“You can't continue to change people out and have this back and forth between state control 10 years, and then local control 10 years and whatever it might be, to take away from the fact that they probably need to pay police officers more, they probably need to have more officers available,” Rizzo said.

The last day of the 2024 Missouri legislative session is May 17.

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