The St. Louis Board of Police Commissioners, the state agency that directs (but does not pay for) the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department, decided today that if the City of St. Louis does not give the police department an additional $3 million next fiscal year, it will reduce the size of the force by 65 police officers.
I strongly oppose that.
The City, like the rest of the country, is trying to recover from the worst economy since the Great Depression. That is the reality.
We are making progress. This year, we had to deal with a $46 million shortfall. We were fiscally responsible ' cutting jobs, re-thinking how we delivered services, and increasing user fees and fines. As a result, barring the expected, next year's shortfall will be only $8.4 million ' though that money will have still to come from somewhere.
The police department's share of next year's budget cuts amounts to one-half-of-one-percent of the department's budget. And that small cut, far less than the City's operating departments have taken, is what provoked the police board to tell city residents that if taxpayers do not pony up an additional $3 million, the police department will cut 65 police officers.
The threat is frustrating because the cause of the problem ' the department's rising pension and health care costs - is out of our control. We are not even allowed to collectively bargain with police officers to work towards a solution.
It is frustrating because it is our money, and yet we are not allowed to determine how it is spent, or determine what the priorities should be.
And it is frustrating because eliminating police officers should be the last resort, and this police department has other choices.
I know that the people of St. Louis do not want to lose 65 officers. Neither do I.
So, what next?
The Missouri General Assembly is currently debating legislation that would return local control of the police department to the City of St. Louis.
The City will keep those police officers if we gain local control. The fiscal note on the legislation shows that it that local control save at least $4 million - more than enough to keep the 65 officers. Under local control, we could combine administrative functions, human resources, budget, planning, legal and public relations. We could reorganize the department to put more officers on the streets. Eliminating the police board alone would save $200,000. That represents four police officers right there.
But, we don't have local control, at least not yet. The police board is still a state agency. And that suggests a different next step. Because the police board is a state agency, the Missouri Supreme Court has ruled the City has to fund only a portion of the police department's budget. The court says the rest is the state's responsibility. If the state will not allow us to control the costs of the St. Louis Police Department, then I will ask the state to meet a small portion of its legal obligation and appropriate $3 million to its St. Louis Police Department to avoid losing 65 police officers.
If the state doesn't want to live up to its obligations, then it should return control of the department to people of St. Louis so we can fix this.