State takeover of St. Louis police, prosecutor's office blocked by Senate Democrats

The vote was part of on-going protests in the city following the acquittal of a white police officer in the shooting death of a black motorist.Senate Democrats in Missouri have blocked a bill that would put the police department and part of the prosecutor's office in St. Louis city under state cont

State takeover of St. Louis police, prosecutor's office blocked by Senate Democrats

Senate Democrats prevented a vote on Tuesday night to put the St. Louis police department under state control.

After nine hours of a filibuster led by Democrats, Republicans put the bill on hold for the evening. The session of the legislature ends at 6 pm on May 12.

Republicans said St. Louis' leaders could not decrease crime by themselves, while Democrats claimed the legislation was simply a political "vendetta" against the progressive mayor and prosecutor of the city.

They said that the bill ignores the main factor for the crime problem in the city -- lax gun laws.

Steve Roberts, D, St. Louis said, 'This is an attack on the City of St. Louis.' It's not rational. No one has a solution for guns.

The bill gives the governor the power to remove the authority of an elected prosecutor in violent crime cases. Instead, the governor can appoint either a special prosecutor or the attorney general to take on these cases for a period of five years.

A bill introduced by the Republican Governor would return control of the city's Police Department to a state-appointed board. Mike Parson appointed four commissioners who will serve with the president of St. Louis Board of Aldermen.

On August 28, the police board will take control of the department.

Nick Schroer is a Republican Senator from St. Charles County. He said, "You can pass any gun control you want." What are you doing if there is no police force to enforce these laws and no prosecutor to pursue criminals?

In January, Republican legislators made clear that denying the authority to Kim Gardner, a progressive Black Democrat who was elected as prosecutor in St. Louis this year, would be a priority.

The bill's most controversial part was the control it would have over St. Louis police and the prosecutor. It also made it easier to charge someone with rioting and expanded the areas in which school safety officers could carry firearms. And, the prison sentences would be extended.

All employees of marijuana-related businesses would be fingerprinted as part the background check.

The original bill included a provision that prohibited children from carrying guns in public without adult supervision. The bill was intended to restore language that was removed from Missouri law by the Second Amendment Preservation Act in 2021.

Republicans were concerned that they would be infringing the Second Amendment.

Roberts stated that the issue was about protecting children. It's just egregious, to me, that this group seems to put guns before lives.

Special prosecutor for violent crime cases

Rep. Lane Roberts (R-Joplin) said that the purpose of his bill on special prosecutor was to reduce crime in the State.

The House bill initially targeted Gardner who was reelected in November 2020 by 74% of voters.

Out of concern that singling one prosecutor out would be unconstitutional, the bill was modified to apply to all elected prosecutors in the state.

If the number of murders in any prosecuting attorneys jurisdiction during the twelve months prior to the appointment exceeds 35 per 100,000 people, the governor can appoint an extra prosecutor.

A review of certain crime statistics would allow the governor to also determine that there is a 'threat to public health and safety'.

The special prosecutor will have exclusive jurisdiction to prosecute certain crimes, including murders and assaults. He or she can hire 15 assistant prosecuting lawyers and 15 staffers.

Gardner's Office and the Missouri Association of Prosecuting Attorneys testified in opposition to the bill before committee.

Gardner's representative Chief Warrant officer Chris Hinkley told legislators at a committee hearing on Jan. 30, that the bill incorrectly assumed the prosecutor's offices had a backlog violent crime cases.

Hinkley stated that despite the pandemic, violent crimes remained at the top of the list. The review of violent crimes was never delayed.

In the original bill, a clause explicitly stated that the special prosecutor "shall not act as the attorney general."

The Senate version of the bill that was debated on Tuesday removed this line and replaced it with a statement that the governor can appoint any prosecuting or circuit attorneys elected by the electorate as special prosecutor.

In 2020, Republicans also tried twice to give a large amount of Gardner’s authority to the then Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt.

Schmitt could have taken over homicides if Gardner's Office had not filed charges 90 days after the incident or if the Chief Law Enforcement Officer requested it.

Missouri Association of Prosecuting Attorneys (MAPA) fought against this provision in 2020. They said that Missourians "have never wanted politicians from statewide to interfere in local affairs."

St. Louis Police Department under state control

The Senate added more controversial language to the bill that would put St. Louis police back under the state's control. This policy was originally a result of the pro-slavery leaders trying to maintain control in the early 1800s.

Kansas City is one of the few major cities in the United States where a state appointed police board controls the local police force.

St. Louis has been in the same boat up until 2013.

A 2012 statewide vote gave the city local control over its police department.

Schroer's original proposal would reverse this.

The law also says that the mayor, or any officer of the city, would be fined $1,000 for "each and every offense" to hinder the board. They will also be permanently disqualified from holding any office in the city.

Sen. Karla MAY, D-St. Louis retorted that the city was under state control and had high levels of crime prior to 2012.

Why do you want to claim that we should take over the police department? May spoke. May said.

Former Public Safety director Dan Isom who was the police chief of the city in 2012, when the referendum passed, testified before the Senate that despite the state legislators' constant push to loosen firearm restrictions since 2007, the city had made progress to reduce violent crime.

Isom stated that Missouri has some of loosest firearm laws in the nation.

Isom stated that when Missouri adopted permitless concealed carrying in 2016, law enforcement officials warned of the impact, but they were ignored.

Isom stated that between 2016 and 2020, firearm homicides in the city increased by 50% -- from 177 to 266, he said.

He said that between 2020 and 2021 the city's violent crime rate dropped by 23 percent.

Isom stated that the return to local control did not lead to an increase in violent crimes. The increase in weaponry has led to more violence on the streets, according to Isom.

Isom said that removing the power of elected local officials to direct the policing in St. Louis will also disengage police officers from their communities.

Isom stated that a local police chief can act as a mediator between the community's needs and policing priorities. Removing the local connection between police officers and their communities will create a feeling of distrust, making them less safe.