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Columbia Missourian

Proposition A would amend governance of St. Louis police

By Alexis Hitt
October 8, 2012 | 4:21 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — As the November general election nears, supporters and opponents of Proposition A, a ballot measure that would restore local control to the City of St. Louis Police Department, are speaking out.

The St. Louis police department now is controlled by the St. Louis Board of Police Commissioners. The board is composed of St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay and four governor-appointed St. Louis citizens: Richard Gray, Bettye Battle-Turner, Thomas Irwin and Erwin Switzer. If passed, the local control initiative would dissolve the board and put the police department under the mayor's control, like the St. Louis fire department. 

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St. Louis and Kansas City's police departments are both controlled by state boards. The state was given control of the St. Louis department in 1861, during the Civil War era, according to the Safer Missouri Citizens Coalition website. The coalition supports Proposition A.

"St. Louis is one of two cities in the entire nation that doesn't control it's own police department," coalition spokeswoman Brooke Foster said. "It will help to improve the efficiency and accountability of the department."

The fiscal note attached to the ballot issue says Missouri would save an estimated $500,000 per year if it's approved. The savings would come from an estimated total annual savings of $1 million in costs related to defending and paying legal claims against the St. Louis Board of Police Commissioners.

That, however, would be coupled with an increase of $500,000 per year in defending and paying claims against Kansas City's police board, Spence Jackson, a spokesman for the Missouri State Auditor's Office, said in an email. Jackson said the proposal would increase the $500,000 cap on Kansas City police board costs from the state legal expense fund.

The city of St. Louis would save an estimated $3.5 million per year based on the "elimination of duplicative and unnecessary administration costs," Jackson said. Those savings, too, are reflected in the ballot measure's fiscal note.

In November 2010, 70 percent of St. Louis voters supported local control in a nonbinding referendum. Last April, the Safer Missouri Citizens Coalition submitted more than 164,000 voter signatures to the Missouri Secretary of State's Office. In August, the initiative's appearance on the Nov. 6 ballot was approved.

Opponents of the initiative argue that Proposition A is a "backdoor collective bargaining deal" between Mayor Slay and the St. Louis Police Officer's Association.

"The police union has always been against local control and did not switch positions until they were granted collective bargaining with binding arbitration and the enforcement of fair share," Gary Wiegert, spokesperson for the Vote No on Prop A citizens group, said in a youtube video.  

In the video, Wiegert said fair share is the forced collection of dues from nonmembers of the St. Louis police union.

"We believe government closest to the people is the best government," Wiegert said. "We like four citizens running our police department versus a mayoral bureaucracy." 

Wiegert, who retired after working with the St. Louis police for 32 years, is a former president of the St. Louis Police Officer's Association and is now a lobbyist for the St. Louis Tea Party.

Locally, Proposition A is endorsed by Columbia Mayor Bob McDavid, state Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, and state Rep. Stephen Webber, D-Columbia, according to the Safer Missouri Citizens Coalition website.

"Mainly it's the right thing to do," Webber said. "In Columbia, we wouldn't want Jeff City controlling our police department."

Supervising editor is Scott Swafford.