When Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster accepted the endorsement of the Missouri Fraternal Order of Police, he provided them with an unambiguous message: Under his gubernatorial administration, police officers around the state will have his unwavering support.
“The next administration that I will lead will have the back of law enforcement officers at every level, in every county in this state, unquestioned – and make certain they have the resources and the faith and loyalty of this government as they go forward to make sure that our state is safe and functioning properly,” said Koster at a press conference at the St. Louis Police Officers Association headquarters in St. Louis on Tuesday.
Koster spent most of the day Tuesday traveling around Missouri promoting the state police union’s endorsement. It comes amid a national focus on relationships between police and African-Americans, especially after high-profile police shootings in Ferguson and around the country provoked national discussion.
While the state police union has endorsed Democratic gubernatorial candidates before, the group’s backing of the Democratic attorney comes as Republican candidates around the country (including GOP gubernatorial nominee Eric Greitens) are emphasizing their support of law enforcement. Officials at the St. Louis press conference said their backing of Koster was unanimous.
“Although we may not completely agree on every single topic, we’ve always had a good dialogue with the attorney general – unlike any other candidate running for governor at this time,” said Joe Patterson, the president of the St. Louis County Police Officers Association. “The attorney general has always sat down at a table and included us in conversations. We felt that we were part of a plan. And under his governor’s office, we would assume that’s going to continue.”
St. Louis Public Radio’s message to Greitens’ campaign staff regarding the FOP endorsement did not receive a response.
During his remarks, Koster also promised to push the GOP-controlled legislature to support higher bail requirements for arrestees on gun crimes and enacting stricter sentencing on “felons who refuse to put down their guns.” He also reiterated his support for a judicial “gun docket.”
“The city of St. Louis simply cannot survive as an entity at 200 murders a year. It will collapse at some point upon itself. And giving these officers the tools that they need to take criminals off the street and calm these streets from the levels that we have seen has been something I have been advocating for in front of the Missouri General Assembly for the last two years,” said Koster, referring to the gun docket idea. “My hope is that in January of next year as governor, we will return to this issue and talk with them about increased support for probation and parole in intensive supervision.”
Koster opposes independent prosecutor idea
Koster’s endorsement from the state Fraternal Order of Police comes nearly a year after the Ferguson Commission released extensive recommendations to bridge racial, economic and social divides after Michael Brown’s death. (Then-MOFOP President Kevin Ahlbrand was a member of that commission, which formed shortly after a Ferguson police officer shot and killed Brown.)
One of the recommendations was bringing in the attorney general and the Missouri Highway Patrol to investigate a police-involved killing. After St. Louis Public Radio’s Republican gubernatorial debate in July, Greitens said he’d consider the independent prosecutor idea.
“We need to do everything that we can in the state of Missouri to support our law enforcement officers – and increase confidence and trust between our law enforcement officers and the communities that they’re policing,” Greitens said. “And in situations where you have any kind of officer-involved shooting, we need to put in place a system that’s going to make sure that we get all of the facts so that people can have confidence in the results that we’re getting. And in some circumstances, [bringing in an independent prosecutor] might be the way for us to go.”
But while that idea has received bipartisan support, it also elicited opposition from prosecutors like St. Louis County Prosecutor Bob McCulloch – and from Koster.
“I am not favorably inclined to it. It’s not to say that I won’t sit down and listen. But I have to tell you that as a prosecutor who came up through the prosecutorial system, prosecutors are locally elected and it is most appropriate that the prosecutorial decision occur close to the communities where the individuals are elected,” said Koster, who served as Cass County’s prosecutor.
He went onto say that one of the things he respected about Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon's handling of the Ferguson unrest was “the more challenging the situation got, the more he at his core knew that he had to maintain allegiance to the law that we had set it down and agreed upon.”
“And I think that time has shown that was an important instinct that he had. I am opposed to making these things up as we go along,” Koster said. “Bob McCulloch is the most experienced prosecutor in the state of Missouri. And St. Louis County has elected Bob McCulloch. And I think that it is important that the established rule of law be maintained.”
Koster mentioned in his speech about how he and St. Louis Police Chief Sam Dotson regularly speak about the importance of choosing law enforcement as a career to predominantly African-American schools. He said he would ask the legislature to codify that sentiment into public policy.
“There is no doubt that we can’t totally solve the problem of Ferguson unless we are able to excite again young people from the minority community to come into policing,” Koster said. “And taking those speeches from a symbolic stage to actual policy where the General Assembly in a bipartisan way, my hope is will link together and create scholarships and opportunities and a real challenge for young people to choose policing I think is incredibly important to moving beyond Ferguson.”