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House committee endorses local control for St. Louis Police Department

By Marshall Griffin, KWMU

Jefferson City, MO – Following a lengthy hearing, a Missouri House committee has voted in favor of a bill that would grant local control to the St. Louis and Kansas City police departments.

The state has commanded both cities' police forces dating back to the 1800's.

St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay told the House Special Committee on Urban Issues that there's no rational explanation for not returning control to the city's taxpayers.

"They have a right to control their own destiny when it comes to keeping their neighborhood safe...they have a right to operate the police department in the best way possible to meet their own needs," Slay said.

Opponents fear turning over control could result in police officers losing their pensions.

Gary Weigert, President of the St. Louis Police Officers Association, told the committee he thinks the state can better guarantee pensions.

"Also, due to a lack of financial support, the SLPOA has sued the city to contribute to retiree's health care benefits...that, too, since it's under control of the state, we are going to the Missouri Supreme Court because the city has not properly funded our police department," Weigert testified.

The bill originally called for local control for St. Louis's police department only, but it was amended to include Kansas City, in order to generate more support among House members.

St. Louis police have been under state authority dating back to the Civil War, while the state created the Kansas City Board of Police Commissioners in the 1870's.

It's now up to G.O.P. leaders to decide whether to allow the bill to be debated before the full House.

The effort has failed to come up for a vote in previous legislative sessions.

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