The fight for control of the St. Louis police force
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The St. Louis police department was under state control for more than 140 years.
From the Civil War, all the way to just a decade ago.
Republicans in the Missouri legislature want to take control of the St. Louis police again — to fight crime, they say. Critics disagree.
“If the Republican legislature really wants to do something to make St Louis a safer place, they could pass common sense gun laws just as the bipartisan majority of Missourians want them to do,” Rev. Traci Blackmon says.
“But that’s not on their radar. What’s on their radar is having power and control of law enforcement.”
What is this really about? Crime? Power? Or race?
“I would say that it reeks of racial tendencies, though I know that that’s inflammatory language for some. But it is what it is,” Blackmon says.
Today, On Point: The fight for control of the St. Louis police force.
Tony Messenger, metro columnist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. (@tonymess)
Mayor Tishaura Jones, mayor of the City of St. Louis since April 2021. (@saintlouismayor)
Nick Schroer, Missouri state senator and former three-term State representative. (@NickBSchroer)
Heather Taylor, deputy director for public safety for the city of St. Louis. Former detective sergeant on the St. Louis police force. Former president of the Ethical Society of Police, a minority police association. (@HthrTylr)
Sgt. Donny Walters, president of the Ethical Society of Police.
Rev. Traci Blackmon, associate general minister for the United Church of Christ. She was one of the leaders in the St. Louis community during the protests after Ferguson. (@pastortraci)
On the fight for control of the St. Louis police force
Tony Messenger: “They basically proposed to do exactly what happened in the civil war, that to have the state of Missouri take over control of the city’s police department. And it really is a relitigation of that same situation that happened in the 1800s. It’s a fight over power. It’s a fight over race. It’s a fight over who gets to be in charge of public safety in the city. It’s residents or white rural Republicans who control the Missouri legislature.”
Heather Taylor: “I think it starts with politics. And I’m so not political that I think the argument from the state perspective is pretty ridiculous, with gun laws as they are. If we had ways to flag people in possession of guns, we would have not had a central individual performing arts active shooter and we could have prevented some of that violence. And children and teachers who were loved by this community are gone.
“We also have to admit that in Kansas City, which is under state control right now, they’ve had the highest increases in homicides 2020, 2021, 2022. And this year, unfortunately for victims of violence isn’t looking so great in Kansas City now. And the very concept of … it’s like they’re gaslighting us with this argument of less violence under state control. Well, you pass gun laws that were lax, that allow anyone to carry a gun and literally anyone’s carrying a gun. And then when crime was spiking under state control … it was nothing. But now that crime has spiked in some areas and under city control. Now it’s a city problem. We got to get rid of city control. And I disagree with that.”
What’s your first response to the notion of the state taking back control of the St. Louis police?
Mayor Tishaura Jones: “State control of our police department is not going to make our citizens safer. We will not be able to respond accordingly and swiftly to changes in policy. It’ll bring more politics into public safety. Under the previous state control board, politics was in every decision regarding our police department. And right now, … we just hired a new police chief. We want to give him the opportunity to lead as he has led in other cities.”
On seizure of the Missouri legislature in 1861
Tony Messenger: “You talk about the Confederate sympathizers that controlled, you know, the legislature and the governor’s mansion at that time. That’s clearly what the control was about. And some of that was about race. The racial makeup was different in 1861 than it is now. But it was mostly about union versus Confederacy. Much of it now is very much about race. You can’t ignore the racial component, that the city has a Black mayor who’s in charge of the police department and the governor and most of the legislators who are pushing this issue are white. And they’re Republican, and she’s Democrat.
“I mean, it’s really, to some degree, a replay of those issues. And it would be one thing if you could really point to something as it relates to local control of the police department and say, wow, the city has really failed in this regard. Or if you could really point to consistent trends with rising crime from the time the city took over control of its police department. But you can’t in either one of those instances, tie those that data which is going up and down to local control. There’s just no data to support the argument.”
What do you think the city and its police department need right now to make inroads on reducing crime?
Heather Taylor: “I think that some of the issues are clearly guns. I worked in homicide for almost a decade and the major issue comes back to guns. Guns that have been in the hands of people that shouldn’t have them, that have literally killed our own police officers. Legislation that was in place until about a week ago that would have allowed for officers to be charged for following federal gun laws. So at the end of the day, if we really want to take a shot at violent crime, in lowering crime: gun laws.
“And you also want to do what the city is already doing. I love the idea of the Office of Violence Prevention. I love the ideas of resources being in the hands of people that are experts. Police officers, we are not experts, and we don’t want to respond on those calls because we have no expertise there. We want trained professionals there and the city is doing that. And you have to give credit where credit is due. Give credit for the Office of Violence Prevention … dealing with the issues behind violence that are related to, you know, living conditions.
“Those things are important, and they affect violence. So those things are just as critical as having officers on the street to patrol. Just as critical as improving morale. And I can tell you, under state control, morale wasn’t great. So this idea that, oh, it was so lovey dove under state control and morale was … we’re Kumbaya holding hands and loving each other. That’s absolutely false.
“Under city control, morale isn’t an issue. Let’s be realistic here. You are going to have morale issues in law enforcement. Those come. Across the country, law enforcement officers, that job is not viewed as what it used to be or what it should be. And so there are numbers that are lower all around the country. There are problems with retention and hiring and morale across the country. St. Louis is no different from anywhere else.”
The Intercept: “BRISTLING UNDER PROGRESSIVE MAYOR, ST. LOUIS POLICE SEEK STATE TAKEOVER” — “Police unions have rallied around Missouri Senate Bill 78, which would reinstate a Civil War-era system of state oversight.”
KSDK: “Bill proposes a return to state control for St. Louis police” — “The bill proposed by Rep. Nick Schroer, a Republican, would establish a board of police commissioners, including four St. Louis members appointed by the governor.”
This article was originally published on WBUR.org.
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