Black officers group defends state control of St. Louis police, baffling allies

8 months ago 4

The St. Louis police department had been under the management of the state for more than 140 years before it was returned to city control a decade ago. Now, Missouri Republican lawmakers want to take control of the department again — to fight crime, they say — and a Black officers’ group is supporting the effort, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports. 

Missouri’s House recently approved a bill that puts the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department back under state control. Two organizations (the Ethical Society of Police [ESOP] and the St. Louis Police Officers Association) that both represent police officers in the city have long sparred over issues of race and social justice, but in recent months both groups have set aside their political differences to support a state takeover of the police department.

Protests Erupt Over Not Guilty Verdict In Police Officer's Jason Stockley Trial Over Shooting Death Of Anthony Lamar SmithPolice in riot gear stand by as protestors demonstrate on Sept. 15, 2017, in St. Louis. (Photo by Michael B. Thomas/Getty Images)

ESOP’s support has shocked many local civil rights and social justice community advocates — including ESOP members — considering its history. Black police officers founded the group in 1972 because they were dissatisfied with the way the association and department handled racist incidents and policies. Some members reportedly view ESOP president Sgt. Donnell Walters’ stance as a betrayal of the organization’s values. 

Walters is in favor of the bill because he believes it could help curb the rise of violent crime in a city where the population and police force are decreasing. He has publicly questioned some of Mayor Tishaura Jones’ policies, including those that appear to support the “defund the police” agenda.

Critics argue that restoring state control would negate law enforcement transparency, accountability and reforms under local Black and Democratic leadership.

Walters has said another reason he supports the anti-crime effort is because city leaders and elected officials — including Black ones — have ignored his concerns about recruitment and officer protection.The bill, which Republican state Sen. Nick Schroer sponsored, could help build up the department by recruiting and retaining officers.

The Missouri House passed the bill earlier this month and it’s now in the Senate. The legislation calls for control of the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department to be placed in the hands of a five-person police board of commissioners consisting of Jones as well as four other commissioners — all Gov. Mike Parson appointees, The Kansas City Star reports.

Opponents like Redditt Hudson believe the measure would subvert the will of St. Louis voters, according to the Post-Dispatch.

“We have a process for making changes — it’s called an election,” said Hudson, a former St. Louis policeman who works in the city’s Circuit Attorney’s Office. Schroer’s bill “eliminates the voices of the people who said they want local control and an enhanced civilian (police) oversight board.”

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