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As Mayor, Tishaura Jones Would ‘Reenvision’ Public Safety — And Maybe Cut Police Overtime

Mayoral candidate Tishaura Jones speaks to passers-by while canvassing the Botanical Heights neighborhood on Feb. 18, 2017.
File photo / Carolina Hidalgo / St. Louis Public Radio
Treasurer Tishaura Jones, shown campaigning in 2017.

St. Louis Treasurer Tishaura Jones doesn’t want to abolish the police. But she might want to cut the department’s overtime budget.

The treasurer is one of four candidates running for mayor in the city’s March 2 primary. The darling of local progressives, she nearly bested then-Alderwoman Lyda Krewson in the 2017 mayoral primary, coming just 879 votes short.

But asked on Tuesday’s St. Louis on the Air if she believes in defunding the police, Jones said she prefers the phrase “reenvision or reimagine public safety,” saying that includes not just police but the fire department.

She explained that she would start with a question: “Do you think that the current system is working?”

“And most people will say no, that the current system is not working, and you know, calls to ‘defund the police’ echo through every American city following the tragic deaths of Brianna Taylor and George Floyd and many others,” she continued. “And to me, defunding the police is about restructuring our public safety budget, and putting the public back in public safety and investing in the things that actually keep us safe. It's not abolishing the police.”

Jones is open, though, to cutting their overtime budget. She pointed to Austin as a city where police reforms are actually underway, not just talked about.

“They took money from overtime and a couple of other places in the police budget and used it to purchase a hotel for the homeless,” she said. “And so I'm like, ‘Hmm, maybe we can look at those places in our budget,' because we all know that our overtime budget has been a subject of our most recent audit.”

Jones said she is intent on closing the city’s Medium Security Institution, better known as the Workhouse. Mayor Krewson’s administration has said that it cannot house everyone in the city’s other jail downtown and that closing the Workhouse would mean moving people awaiting trial far from their loved ones.

“The truth is, and I've gotten this from some really good sources, is that there is enough room for our current amount of detainees in the City Justice Center downtown,” Jones said. “What we need to do is take a good top-to-bottom review of the people that we are currently detaining and ask which ones are eligible to be released on their own recognizance, which ones can be put in diversion programs, like the circuit attorney has. Which ones are there because they can't afford bail? Let's take a long, hard review of those. And then I think that afterwards, we'll have enough space to put everybody in the Justice Center downtown.”

A St. Louis native, Jones is the only child of former city comptroller Virvus Jones. She served two terms in the Missouri House of Representatives before being elected city treasurer in 2012. She has been reelected twice, most recently last fall, and fought a series of high-profile legal disputes over her operation of the office.

During her tenure as treasurer, she has faced withering criticism from the editorial board of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, as well as some negative coverage from local TV stations. She has earned national attention as she’s pinned the coverage on racism and sexism.

Asked if she’d found any of the criticism fair, or learned from it, she said: “You know what, I can't think of too much that has been fair. I mean, when I think of how I've been treated, especially by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch editorial board — I will make a distinction there, that it's been the editorial board and not the hardworking journalists that are employed by the paper. I do feel that treatment has not been fair.

“But, you know, I also consider it hazard pay. It's a part of the job. And it's a part of being a Black woman in politics. I don't have too many other colleagues across the country, in different elected positions, that also haven't received unfair treatment from their media outlets, in particular their editorial boards. It's unfortunately one of the scars of racism, of being Black in this country.”

Jones is a longtime Democrat, though the city’s election model is nonpartisan beginning with this election. Voters are allowed to “approve” of as many candidates as they’d like. All four candidates are joining St. Louis on the Air this week for one-on-one interviews.

The top two vote-getters face off April 6.

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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Sarah Fenske served as host of St. Louis on the Air from July 2019 until June 2022. Before that, she spent twenty years in newspapers, working as a reporter, columnist and editor in Cleveland, Houston, Phoenix, Los Angeles and St. Louis.