There is some new language in HB71 that may return control of the police department to the people of St. Louis. The association that represents St. Louis police officers supports it, making it much more likely that it will pass the Missouri General Assembly this session. I commend the association's leadership for their foresight. They could have dug in and opposed any change. Instead, they and their representatives agreed to support a bill that will make the police department better for citizens, visitors ' and for police officers.
Here is how the bill works. If state lawmakers approve the legislation, the St. Louis police department will be returned to local control when the police officers association and the St. Louis Police Board agree on a collective bargaining agreement. The legislation also includes a number of provisions to make a smoother transition from state control to local control. It is a compromise that gives taxpayers something we have long sought. And it gives officers a formal seat at the table.
I support the legislation for two reasons:
First, the people of St. Louis will get our police department back after 150 years.
Second, the condition of the compromise ' collective bargaining ' has a value in which I believe. Collective bargaining is much more than haggling over pay and working conditions. If done in good faith, it represents a partnership that will improve morale among officers, improve the effectiveness of the department, and result in safer city neighborhoods. This agreement will create a new, better relationship among the people of St. Louis, their elected representatives, and the police officers who keep us safe.
Since the start of the Civil War, the operations, finances, and working conditions of the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department have been controlled by the state through a board of commissioners selected by the governor and approved by the state senate.
For five years, my office has pushed for local control. Over the last two years, that push has become an urgent citywide movement that has galvanized the citizens of St. Louis. We believe that local government works best when it is directly accountable to the taxpayers, and that is especially true for the police department.
This is a turn in a new direction. But it is just a turn, not a completed journey. The General Assembly must still pass the bill. And, the Board of Police Commissioners and police officers must come to a collective bargaining agreement.
If for whatever reason we are not successful, then we will go back to the General Assembly next year. And, of course, an initiative petition process can also go forward immediately.
Still, I count today as a milestone. Almost 150 years ago to the day, the citizens and taxpayers of St. Louis lost their police department. Today, we have moved much closer than ever to getting it back.