Honorable Jamilah NasheedChair, Urban Affairs Committee201 W. Capitol Ave.Jefferson City, MO65101
Dear Representative Nasheed:
I regret that a previously scheduled commitment has prevented me from attending today's hearing. Please know that my absence is no indication of my feelings about the importance of HB71. I consider this to be among the most important pieces of legislation that the General Assembly will consider. I applaud House leadership and members of this body for taking it up.
Today, there are only two cities in the United States that do not have the right to control their own police force--and St. Louis is one of them. St. Louis lost control of its police department at the beginning of the Civil War because the governor and the legislature were Southern sympathizers and supporters of the Confederacy. Unfortunately, nearly 150 years later, things haven't changed.
Why does local control work? In one word, accountability. Police and sheriff's departments are run at the local level for a very good reason. Law enforcement officers do their best work and their most effective crime prevention, when they are close to the community they police. The close relationship of a locally controlled department allows citizens to demand accountability and fosters relationships that ultimately help the police do their job more safely and effectively. Throughout the United States and most of Missouri, if something goes wrong in your local police department or county sheriff's office, if you are dissatisfied with the service you get, if you are angry that crime is going up in your neighborhood, or if your tax dollars are wasted, you can hold the mayor, local council, county executive or commissioners accountable. We don't have that accountability in St. Louis. When something goes wrong, when we are tagged with high crime labels, or if money is stolen, there is no one to take your call in Jefferson City.
When there is scandal in the St. Louis Police Department, when money is wasted, or there is a spike in crime, to whom do the people turn? They don't call the governor or board members who control the department. They call the mayor. But, the mayor is almost powerless. He is just one of five votes. As often as not, the rest of the board members ignore him. If you don't believe me, ask our previous mayors. I can tell you that when something goes wrong in City government, I hear about it, and do something about it. If I didn't listen and respond to my constituents, I would be voted out of office. That is not true of police commissioners. The four of them are not elected by anyone. They are not held to account by anyone. None of this is a reflection on Chief Isom, or the men and women of his department. They do a great job. But, the police budget is $160-million out of a $460-million budget. In other words, one-third of our budget is controlled by four people who are not elected by anyone. During my ten years as mayor, no board member has ever asked, "Is this the best use of taxpayers' money? Is this good for the taxpayers?" I ask those questions at every meeting because I am accountable to the taxpayers. The other board members never ask because they are not. The people of St. Louis are smart enough and sophisticated enough to make their own decisions. They are as deserving and capable of having their own police department as people in the rest of the state. It is their $160-million that is being spent in the St. Louis Police Department. It is their neighborhoods that are being protected. A growing coalition of citizens, business leaders, clergy and neighborhood leaders is calling for the return of Local Control. In November, 2010 the people of St. Louis made it clear they want their department back by voting 69% in favor of Local Control. Representing those citizens--that coalition--I ask this panel to approve legislation that would return the Police department to the people of St. Louis.
Thank you for allowing me to address this committee. I offer special thanks to Representative Nasheed and all of the legislators who are working hard to bring justice to the people of St. Louis. We are all very grateful for your efforts.
Francis G. SlayMayor