During 150 years of state control, St. Louis's police officers have not had much opportunity to discuss their pay, health care, pensions, or working conditions.
One result of that is that most street officers end up knowing very little about the finances of their department. An opinion piece penned for the newspaper recently asserted that the department's budget was cut by $20 million last year. In fact, the FY 2009 police budget, including pensions, went UP by $13 million. That's a big difference. How could officers be so mistaken?
The cost of fringe benefits for an average police office is 66 percent of their salary. That means if a police officer is taking home $60,000 per year, he (or she) is costing the taxpayers nearly $100,000 per year. But, our officers don't see that themselves. Their pension and health care costs have gone through the roof, but officers' benefits are no better today than a decade ago. That is the worst of both worlds ' straining taxpayers and disappointing officers.
One way to find more common ground between taxpayers and police officers would be to sit down together more often at tables in the City where things can really get decided.
So, I plan to make a little news in Jefferson City this afternoon:
I will tell Missouri senators that, if the state chooses to give the City its police department back, the City will recognize the St. Louis Police Officers Association as the bargaining unit and will negotiate a written, binding contract with the officers. We will also create a management/labor team to involve the officers themselves in the daily operation of the department. Officers will have more, not less, involvement in the department under local control.
That removes all but one argument from the debate over local control. Will the governor be willing to give up his traditional prerogative to name police commissioners?