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Government, Politics & Issues

Some still see victory in Missouri House's rejection of local control for St. Louis police

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, March 31, 2010 -  The Missouri House voted today against returning to City Hall control of the St. Louis Police Department. But one of the chief advocates, state Rep. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis, says a loss is still a victory. That's because it's the first time the House has voted on the issue since the state took control almost 150 years ago.

Meanwhile, another advocate of city control -- state Rep. Chris Carter, D-St. Louis -- countered by filing legislation that would place all local police departments under the control of the state of Missouri.

Carter says he filed the bill, HB 2434, "just hours after the Missouri House of Representatives voted 63-86'' to defeat the local-control bill. HB 1601, that would have ended state control of the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department.

“Since those who voted against HB 1601 think state control of the St. Louis police is such a great idea, they should embrace a state takeover of their own local police departments,” Carter said. “There is no reason their constituents should continue to be denied the joy that St. Louisans experienced today of being prevented from having a voice in their own police department by people who don’t live in their city.

The St. Louis Police Department and its counterpart in Kansas City are under state control, although the cities continue to pay the bills. In St. Louis' case, the state took control during the Civil War because of concern over the city's pro-Union stance; Jefferson City was pro-Confederacy.

Said Nasheed in a statement shortly after today's vote:

"Today the House of Representatives voted 63-86 to defeat House Bill 1601, which would have ended the obsolete and ineffective system of state control of the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department. The citizens of St. Louis are only seeking what most other Missouri residents already enjoy – a voice in running their local police department that is paid for with their local tax dollars.

"After decades of being ignored, supporters of local control scored a major victory this year by bringing this issue to a vote on the House floor for the first time in history. Although the vote wasn’t successful this time, we have made significant progress that we will build on in the future. This issue will not die until St. Louis taxpayers have the power over their own affairs that they deserve. It may take a few more years, but local control will become a reality."

Meanwhile, Mayor Francis Slay quickly posted his own observations on his blog. Among other things, the mayor predicted that the city will eventually regain control. But he also acknowledged that "the issue is dead for this session."

The House defeat likely makes moot the parallel pro-local control in the state Senate, led by state Sen. Joe Keaveny, D-St. Louis and a Slay ally. But the matter could still live on as an issue in Keaveny's Democratic primary contest this summer against a former police officer, James Long.

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