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Government, Politics & Issues

Judge says St. Louis County can't set police standards for municipalities

St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger's proposal would impliment minimum standards for police departments to follow. If they don't meet those benchmarks, Stenger's office could effectively disband departments.
Jason Rosenbaum | St. Louis Public Radio
St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger's strongly supported a law that would impliment minimum standards for police departments to follow. If they don't meet those benchmarks, Stenger's office could effectively disband departments.

A judge has thrown out a St. Louis County ordinance that requires municipal police departments to adhere to certain standards.

It’s a temporary blow to a big priority for St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger, who pushed the law as a way to bolster confidence in public safety throughout the county.

At issue is a law passed last year requiring local police departments to follow training and personnel guidelines (click here to read more about the law). Late last year, several cities filed a lawsuit against the ordinance – contending that the county did not have the authority to tell local police departments what to do. Stenger said the county’s charter provisions that deal with regulating health provide the authority to follow through with the police standards.

But in a ruling handed down earlier this week, St. Louis County Circuit Judge Robert Cohen said the Missouri constitution, state law and the county’s charter do not authorize the police standards law.

“The St. Louis County Police Department provides law enforcement services to unincorporated areas within St. Louis County,” the ruling stated. “It also provides services to municipalities under contract and provides services throughout the county in case of special needs and hostage calls. It deploys crime scene investigators and maintains a crime lab with forensic scientists. It investigates major crimes. Notably absent is any reference to health or public health as within the authority or responsibility of the St. Louis County Police Department.”

Paul Martin is an attorney for several cities that sued over the law. He said he was pleased with the decision, which means cities in the county no longer have to adhere to the ordinance.

“The fundamental objection was that it was an overreach of the county’s authority,” Martin said. “And that was the position that the cities took in front of the county council and the lawsuit that followed.”

In a statement, Stenger said the county would appeal Cohen’s decision.

“We will continue to fight to ensure that all county residents have equal access to consistent high-quality law enforcement no matter where they live or travel,” Stenger said.

Some of the standards in the law include background checks on new hires; notifying the Missouri Department of Public Safety whenever a police officer has been hired or fired; and having 24-hour service with at least one officer and supervisor on duty. The county executive’s office couldhave  effectively dissolved departments that don’t meet the benchmarks and force them to contract with another law enforcement agency. 

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