ST. LOUIS — In the state of Missouri, there's a battle over a bill on who should control the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department.
Senate Bill 78 would put police back under state control.
Joe Steiger, business manager for the St. Louis Police Officers Association, is all for a state takeover.
"The St. Louis Police Officers Association is in support of this bill. This local control is a failed experiment," Steiger said.
Steiger was a police officer for 21 years and left the force in March 2017.
He was there when the police department was operating under the state, which was until 2013.
A decade ago, voters stripped that authority away from the state, giving it to local control.
This current bill proposed by state Rep. Nick Schroer, R-O'Fallon, would establish a board of police commissioners, including four St. Louis members appointed by the governor.
This board would be required to maintain at least 1,142 members of the police force and it must include a boost to starting salaries of at least $4,000 by July 2024.
"Getting the pay is a huge part of that," Steiger said.
He said thousands of dollars have been stripped away from the department and it has impacted its current budget. As far as pay, he claims St. Louis police has the lowest in the region.
"In St. Louis County, a police officer tops at 15 years just above $81,000. For St. Louis City, an officer after 30 years gets $69,000," he said.
Steiger believes this change would be a boost in morale and recruitment.
"They are too short," he noted. "Staffing is so low, we are down 1,000."
Before 2013, he claims there were about 1,300 members in the department.
"What local control did was put politics in policing and state control prevented that," he added.
Steiger believes St. Louis leaders aren't taking the staffing shortages and crime seriously.
As far as crime, Steiger said homicide rates have gotten worse since the local control took over in 2013.
From the SLMPD website, St. Louis police reported the following homicide numbers per year since 2011:
- 2011 – 115
- 2012 – 113
- 2013 – 120
- 2014 – 159
- 2015 – 188
- 2016 – 188
- 2017 – 205
- 2018 – 186
- 2019 – 194
- 2020 – 263
- 2021 – 200
- 2022 – 200
However, state Rep. Rasheen Aldridge, D-St. Louis, now running for St. Louis alderman, is opposed to this proposal.
"When I first heard of this bill, I go, 'Ugh, another attack on St. Louis,'" he said. "I’m not shocked. I just continued to get more disgusted that outside representatives and senators mainly that don’t look like me and don’t understand the conditions of the community that I live in and try to have input on the way St. Louis should govern."
He believes there needs to be more digging before planting any new changes.
"Until we address the root problem of crime, I don't care how many police you put on the street. Until we have those real conversations and the state invests into St. Louis, we are going to get the same solutions no matter if it's state or local control," he said.
The Ethical Society of Police, a union that represents a majority of minority officers, said it is "proud" to support Schrorer's bill.
"The decade-long experiment of local control has failed. For too long, the focus of local control has been the focus of controlling budgets rather than prioritizing the fundamental changes needed to improve the department," the organization said in a statement.
Dr. Dan Isom, the outgoing interim public safety director and former St. Louis police chief, testified against the bill during his visit to Jefferson City earlier this week.
"Our police force is steadily working to decrease violent crime in the city and rebuild trust with residents, returning to state control will undermine this effort. ... From 2020 to 2021, our homicide rate fell over 25%. Our violent crime rate fell 23% over the same time period," he said.
"Removing local control will make us less safe, less accountable and less able to serve and protect our highest priority, the residents of St. Louis."
The department's new chief, Robert Tracy also visited and answered questions from the committee and met Gov. Mike Parson.