St. Louis needs local control of police, mayor says

St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay
St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay

Kansas City voters should support a November ballot measure that gives St. Louis local control over its police department, St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay said Tuesday.

Slay also told The Star’s Editorial Board that this vote would not in any way affect the status of Kansas City’s state-appointed police board.

However, if Proposition A is successful, Kansas City would become the only city in the country not to run its own police department.

Slay said the measure on the Nov. 6 statewide ballot is about making the St. Louis police department part of city government again for the first time since the start of the Civil War. The department is funded by the city but answers to a five-member board that includes Slay and four members appointed by the governor.

“It’s about accountability, bringing this closer to the people, and having a safer city,” Slay told the editorial board. Too often, Slay said, the board majority puts police interests ahead of those of local taxpayers and the public.

In 2008, he said, the police chief retired after stories surfaced about a towing company that did business with the department and allowed the police chief’s daughter and police officers to use replacement cars for free. The board still authorized a year’s severance pay, over Slay’s objections.

A locally controlled police department would be more efficient, less expensive, and more responsive to the citizens, Slay said.

In a 2010 referendum, 70 percent of St. Louis voters said they wanted local control of their police department. Slay tried to get the Missouri legislature to approve the change but it got bogged down with other issues, so a citizens initiative placed the issue before voters.

Kansas City Mayor Sly James has written a letter endorsing Proposition A, which is also supported by the St. Louis police officers association.

That kind of consensus for local control does not exist in Kansas City, which has had a state-appointed board since 1939, as a reaction to corruption during the Pendergast era.

In his letter, James said that if St. Louis succeeds in restoring local control, Kansas City may well consider its own police governance structure.

Lisa Pelofsky, president of the Kansas City police board, said Tuesday that Kansas City’s board has not been rocked by the criticism that the St. Louis board has faced. There’s no reason, she said, to fix a governing structure in Kansas City that’s successful.

“I think it’s working extremely well in Kansas City,” she said.