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Local Control Initiative
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This Discussion Guide is part of Community Conversations at FOCUS St. Louis.  It is meant to initiate civil discourse around the policies that affect the St. Louis region; to hear each other’s perspective. As is the case with all public policies, this issue is complex and multi-faceted, with many stakeholders. Please keep this in mind as you discuss local control in your community.

Local Control Initiative (2012)

The issue of local control of the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department (SLMPD) has become a major issue in St. Louis and Missouri politics this year. SLMPD is run by the Board of Police Commissioners, composed of the mayor and four appointees of the governor.  The preponderance of gubernatorial appointees has led many to charge that the state effectively runs the police department in St. Louis City.
 
A group called Safer Missouri Citizens Coalition, funded by Retired investor Rex Sinquefield, submitted signatures to place on the ballot "A Safer Missouri Initiative” also known as "the Local Control Initiative.” The ballot language will read:
 
"Shall the Missouri Constitution be amended to allow any city not within a county (the City of St. Louis) the option of transferring certain obligations and control of the city’s police force from the board of police commissioners currently appointed by the governor to the city and establishing a municipal police force?”
 
Background 

In 1860 Missouri Governor Claiborne Jackson, who had been elected as an anti-secessionist governor, was secretly plotting with Confederacy President Jefferson Davis to bring Missouri into the confederacy through a military coup.   Central to that strategy was gaining control of the U.S. Arsenal in St. Louis, which contained large stocks of arms and ammunitions. To accomplish that control Jackson passed legislation giving the State of Missouri control over the St. Louis police department.  More than 150 years later the state still controls the St. Louis Police Department through gubernatorial appointments to the governing board--the Board of Police Commissioners.
 
Despite gubernatorial control of the Department, local taxes are used to pay the cost of the St. Louis Police.  According to St. Louis' current budget (fiscal year 2012), $144.1 million will be spent on the Police Department operating costs and pensions in the coming year. The Police Department is budgeted to spend roughly one-third of the City’s revenue, and yet the City does not have control over the policies of the Department.
 
While many in the St. Louis region support returning control of the SLMPD back to the City of St. Louis, some people are concerned about the language of the proposed initiative. In particular, some opponents of the proposed initiative contend that the ballot language would limit public access to disciplinary records, thus undermining civilian control of the Department.
 
The St. Louis Police Officer’s Association (POA) has – until recently – been against local control of the SLMPD. Many officers were concerned that the City Hall would somehow use police pension dollars for other spending needs. The Police Officer’s Association was involved in crafting the language of the initiative petition, and appears to be satisfied that the ballot language will protect police pension funds.
 
The issue appears on a state-wide ballot because, in order to allow the City of St. Louis to have control of its own Police Department, the state statutes must be changed. The General Assembly has tried over the years to pass legislation; SB 461, sponsored by Senator Keaveny (D-4) was the latest effort in 2012. In the absence of success in the General Assembly, a state-wide ballot initiative is the other mechanism that can be used to change state statutes.

Who else is involved with this issue?

The major organizations or individuals involved with this issue are the City of St. Louis (Mayor Slay’s office), the St. Louis Police Officer’s Association (POA), A Safer Missouri and the Coalition Against Police Crimes and Repression (CAPCR). The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Eastern Missouri is generally supportive of local control, but is the organization that filed (an unsuccessful) lawsuit, concerning the lack of access to disciplinary records and the absence of a Civilian Review Board.
 
Three Possible Perspectives:
 
Person A favors the ballot initiative, believing that returning control of the Police Department to the City is necessary for good governance.

Person B favors local control, but is concerned about the specifics of the ballot language. In particular, this person believe that there is not adequate civilian oversight of the Police Department.

Person C believes local control should stay with the state. Things have worked well with the status quo, and state oversight helps to avoid corruption or other issues in the SLMPD.
  
Discussion Questions:
  1. Which of the three people in this scenario do you most closely align with A, B, or C?  Why?
  2. Do you believe that local control will improve governance of the St. Louis Police Department? Why or why not?
  3. Even though the Missouri Senate Research Office and County Circuit Court concluded there is no issue, does the language of the ballot proposal appear to obstruct civilian review- the issue that is at the heart of local control? (Follow the link below for the full ballot proposal language.)
Links for further reading:
  1. November 24, 2009 St. Louis Core article: The Case for Local Control of the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department
  2. Missouri General Assembly - Senate Bill 461
  3. The ballot initiative petition backed by A Safer Missouri.
  4. March 1, 2011 St. Louis Public Radio story:  Bound by Division: Local Control of the St. Louis Police Department.
  5. November 2, 2011 Post Dispatch article: Sinquefield retooling petition on local control of St. Louis police.
  6. November 11, 2011 St. Louis Post Dispatch article: St. Louis police to support local control ballot initiative.
  7. January 10, 2012 St. Louis Post Dispatch article: ACLU files suit to block St. Louis local control ballot initiative.
  8. January 10, 2012 St. Louis Post Dispatch Guest commentary: Local control should not mean less information.
  9. March 10, 2012 St. Louis Post Dispatch article: ACLU loses in suit over St. Louis police local control ballot language.
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