Earlier this week, I mentioned several issues that I plan to raise in Jefferson City in 2009. One of them, local control of the police department, is one that several mayors and other St. Louis (and Kansas City) elected officials have sought over the years. So far, we have been unable to convince enough outstate legislators or any governor (who appoints the members of the two departments’ governing boards) to consider the issue seriously.
If the arguments based on equity are not compelling enough to bring change to the table, things we learned in 2008 about the Metropolitan Police Department - much of it first discovered and disclosed by the department itself - should be.
I think that Dan Isom’s selection as police chief is a very good thing. Chief Isom is a contemporary kind of police commander: broadly experienced, extremely well-educated, compassionate, and well-read. His contract - the first of its sort in this department - holds him to a higher level of accountability than previous chiefs have been held.
The vast majority of men and women in the police department are hard-working, well-trained, and dedicated law enforcers. They are popular with and respected by the City’s law-abiding residents and businesses; they are generally unpopular with criminals. They do a dangerous job well - both elements of which were sadly recalled to me by the death of police officer Danielle Livingston on Christmas Eve, and her funeral today.
But, it isn’t enough.
Long after common sense should have prevailed, the Police Board was convened this week in a special executive session. The “urgent” matter that required a closed meeting in the week between Christmas and the New Year holiday? A new offensive against violent crime in dangerous neighborhoods? No. A new strategy to identify and catch illegal dumpers? No. New information about the tow lot investigation? No. New management and supply policies to review things like gold badges before they are actually purchased? No.
It was for none of those reasons.
The Board was called into session to consider the promotion of several senior officers to key positions in the department.
What was the rush? Regardless of the qualifications of these officers, no commissioner was able to explain to me why this subject had to be taken up now, without prior discussion, and in this non-transparent manner. And, given the current governance structure of the department, no one was compelled to explain it to me - or to you.
Local control will be on the City’s legislative and executive agendas in Jefferson City in 2009.