Testimony of Francis G. Slay, Mayor of the City of St. Louis. February 15, 2010
I am here today to testify in favor of HB 1601. I would like to thank Chairman Hoskins for giving me this opportunity, and Rep. Nasheed for sponsoring and Rep. Tilley for co-sponsoring this important legislation.
The City of St. Louis has one of the largest per capita police departments in the entire country. The men and women who patrol our neighborhoods in St. Louis, and the men and women who supervise and direct them, do an extraordinary job. That is fortunate, because very much is demanded of them.
My testimony to you today touches these men and women. I'd like to better pay, train, and utilize these good officers to reduce crime in St. Louis. I'd like to fix the police pension fund without crippling the department or unduly burdening our residents and businesses. I'd like to move police commanders to the most cost effective headquarters space that meets their needs. And, I'd like to explore the notion that we could make our city and the St. Louis region safer with some sort of common public safety discussion with St. Louis County. But, none of these decisions is up to me. Nor to our other elected officials. Nor to our residents. Nor to our businesses. Ultimately, these decisions are up to the Governor and to this Assembly. You actually have the final say on crime fighting, better officer compensation, pensions, and, even, the location of police headquarters in our city, because the City of St. Louis has not had control of our police department since 1861. Today's hearing is an opportunity to put the Missouri's history back on course after a one hundred and fifty year detour.
It is likely that there are state historians in this room who know more about the Home Guard of 1861 than I do, more about the Six Months Militia, more about the Missouri State Militia. It is even likely that the efficacy of these 19th Century fighting units once required the state to take over the St. Louis police department. I can only say this. Whatever this Assembly feared from the St. Louis Police Department in 1861, the threat today has abated considerably. We no longer have any intention of deploying our police department to protect a federal arsenal in St. Louis nor to seize the state capitol.
May we, therefore, please have our police department back, so that the residents of the City of St. Louis, like every city in the entire country outside Missouri, control our own police department?
I am not supporting this bill because I doubt the dedication of the current Board of Police Commissioners. I know them, and as an ex officio member of the Board of Police Commissioners, I know their generally good intentions. But not one of them nor many of their predecessors rings to the Board enough administrative qualification, law enforcement experience, or credibility in the wider community to make up for the fact that they and the governor whose patronage selects them and most of the senators who confirm them have no real accountability to the taxpayers who pay the department's bills nor to the voters who rely on the department's competent deployment.
I support this bill because the people who pay the bills and rely on the service ought to control the department, just like they do where you live. All other American cities have locally controlled and citizen influenced processes to select their municipal police boards or commissions. Only St. Louis and one other city do not.
I have reviewed this Assembly's history. I know that bills like this one have been introduced in the recent and in the not-so-recent past. I also know that these previous bills have gone nowhere, victims of "unexplained bad luck and accident.