Missouri may govern St. Louis Police. Mayor Kansas City thinks that will affect the city 2023

Missouri senators will consider a bill to take control of St. Louis’ police department in the final week of the legislative session.

State control of the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department lasted 152 years until 2013. Missouri voters passed a local control initiative the year before. Jefferson City legislators might reverse that legislative change.

March saw Missouri House approval. Stabilize the police department, said bill author Rep. Brad Christ, R-St. Louis County.

“This bill is an attempt to restore order in a city and region decimated by crime,” Christ added.

Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas warns.

“Every day I deal with issues large and small relating to the fact that decisions have to be made in Jefferson City,” Lucas told St. Louis on the Air.

Kansas City has the sole state-run police agency in Missouri. Lucas and four governor-appointed commissioners make up the Kansas City Police Commission.

The “Pendergast Political Machine” corruption of political leader Tom Pendergast necessitated state oversight, according to the police department’s official website. However, state dominance in Kansas City and St. Louis dates back to the Civil War and efforts to limit Black votes.

Lucas said state control has many drawbacks. The state limits Police Chief Stacey Graves’ compensation. Graves became Kansas City’s first female police chief last year.

“[She’s] paid tens of thousands of dollars a year less than your police chief in St. Louis, than police chiefs in almost every major city in America,” he continued. We must travel to Jefferson City to enhance police’ salaries. Why would you support a system that inhibits our ability to appropriately reward police and blue if you support them?

Police often support state control. The St. Louis Police Officers Association, which predominantly represents white officers, and the Ethical Society of Police, which mostly represents black officers, endorse it. Union representatives claim state control would safeguard cops and improve recruitment, retention, and morale.

Lucas believes state control caused Kansas City’s worst year.

“I think the state control system prevents us from finding the most innovative solutions in some cases,” he remarked.

Lucas said time is spent battling between the state and the city, even though American Rescue Plan Act funding might help prevent crime.

The City of Kansas City applies for grants, which we may pass to the Board of Police Commissioners. “But if they don’t want it or don’t agree with the purpose, then we’re sending money back to the federal government,” Lucas added.

Kansas City and St. Louis have had higher murder rates recently. However, University of Missouri-St. Louis criminologist Richard Rosenfeld argues the evidence does not establish a link between local governance and killings.

In January, Robert Tracy became St. Louis Metropolitan Police Chief. He asked legislators for time to evaluate and make improvements. That may be a persuasive argument in the last days of the legislative session.

Lucas thought giving Tracy a chance is smart.

Why hasn’t every state taken over police agencies if they work? Lucas asked. There’s a simple reason: it’s not a modern tool for improving things.

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