"St. Louis city leaders blasted Gov. Jay Nixon on Thursday after he said local control of the Police Department could lead to political meddling in law enforcement.
Nixon made the comments to reporters at a luncheon at the Governor's Mansion. Until then, the governor hadn't taken a public position on a bill that would take control from a board he controls and give it to the city.
But at the luncheon, Nixon repeated criticism of the proposal that has been made by members of the St. Louis Police Officers Association. He said he is "concerned" that "you would see day-to-day management of law enforcement, direct decisions made in precincts, made in arrests, made in cases ... with political overtones."
"I'm not saying I couldn't see a way to do it," he added. "But I haven't been convinced about what you get."
Those comments were met with disdain in the offices of Mayor Francis Slay and Lewis Reed, president of the Board of Aldermen. Nixon, Slay and Reed are all Democrats.
"If the governor is going to be consistent with his fears, residents of Columbia, Springfield, Moberly and St. Joseph can expect state control of their police departments," said Jeff Rainford, Slay's chief of staff. "The governor needs to explain why what he is doing is good for the people of St. Louis, and not just his own politics and power."
Reed went a step further and said the real political meddling is taking place under the current system, in which the governor appoints the Board of Police Commissioners.
"I'd like the governor to come down and account for all the corruption that's happened over three years," Reed said, referencing scandals involving a local towing company and its relationship with the police, the purchase of gold-plated badges and instances of officer misconduct."
Sounds crazy, doesn't it? The citizens of the City of St. Louis have very little say over how their police department functions. The state of Missouri calls the shots. Wonder why? Here's an excerpt from an article written by Ray Hartmann for St. Louis Magazine that goes into some of the history that never dies here in my state. Some might say we're a bit backwards. DAMN RIGHT WE ARE! Proud of it, too.
An interesting note about the author of the article below. Ray Hartmann is a local institution. He founded The Riverfront Times, a local Progressive newspaper, and I think could fairly be called the voice of the Progressive movement in St. Louis. He may even be the king of the Progressives. But he's also a really good guy.
I find it just a bit ironic that in his article he makes the case, and I agree with him, for local control of the police department. The irony is that in nearly every other case he is strongly in support of strong central government.
The other irony I'd like to point out is that there is this myth of "states rights" that is so firmly attached to the Southern cause. In reality, the Confederacy tended to act in ways much like my state did with the issue of the police board. It consolidated power at the top of government at the expense of the people.
Anyway, welcome to Missouri, the place where history never quite fades away and we hold our grudges forever.
"If you don’t believe that the issue of local control of the St. Louis Board of Police Commissioners is a contentious one, take another look at what some of our local representatives have had to say in Jefferson City.
Rep. George Moore of St. Louis argued that it was “a monstrous act of tyranny and despotism” to have the governor of Missouri control the police board.
Dr. Randolph Doehn, a representative from St. Louis, said it “was nothing else but an odious and pernicious crusade against the rights and the welfare of the city of St. Louis.”
Gen. Sterling Price of Cole called state control of the police board “the most iniquitous and damning [measure] ever imposed on a free people.”
Rep. John Stevenson of St. Louis called it “an attempt to inflict an outrage of the most gross character” and “to persecute people for their political opinions.”
And Rep. V. Randolph of St. Charles told the House that state control of the police board was “an effort to disenfranchise and oppress the people of St. Louis because they were not sound on the Negro question.”
...This Civil War–era legislation was all about the Civil War.
“I think a lot of people don’t realize that St. Louis was generally a pro-Union city in the midst of a state that was Southern in its sympathies,” says Robert Archibald, president of the Missouri History Museum. “The St. Louis police department constituted the largest quasi-military organization in the state, and [the police bill] was a Civil War measure passed by people who wanted to control it as part of the Civil War.”
Archibald notes that Missouri Gov. Claiborne Jackson and the legislature were clearly supporters of the Confederacy and that they needed at the very least to neutralize the potential military power of the St. Louis police force. The Metropolitan Police Bill was all about state control of police and armaments, he says.
Jackson was elected governor in 1860, the same year Abraham Lincoln became president (without carrying Missouri, despite having carried St. Louis). The new governor had not publicly supported Secession during his campaign, but his inaugural address left little doubt as to where he stood...
...This is how the Daily Democrat described the words of Rep. Stevenson, who had offered a number of amendments to the bill—almost all rejected—including one that would have let St. Louis voters choose the Police Board:
“It was one of the most infamous pieces of legislation ever attempted to be inflicted. Our revolutionary fathers threw off the yoke of Great Britain on the very grounds now pursued by this legislature toward St. Louis, which attempts to deprive the people of their right to representation—to appoint foreign officers to preside over them—to take away from them their rights to franchise, to pension hirelings as officers upon them, and to impose taxes to support them without that consent. This Legislature [will] yet see whether the spirit of American freemen has yet died out in the breasts of the citizens of St. Louis.”
Perhaps Mayor Francis Slay should adopt these remarks as he fights for local control of the police—likely with the same result—these 149 years later in Jefferson City. It wouldn’t hurt to have a little more “Take Your Boot Off My Head or I’ll Blast You With My Musket” in the genteel St. Louis message to outstate legislators.
Even some less-progressive representatives of 1861 took offense at the bodacious power-grab by Jackson and fellow Confederate sympathizers. For example, the man who had cited St. Louis not being “sound on the Negro question,” Rep. Randolph of St. Charles, hastened to point out that “he for one would never be a Republican, could not be one, but he viewed this bill as infringing on and usurping the rights of the people, as an act of persecution for opinion’s sake.”...
...Possessing a cooler head, Archibald takes no public position today on the question of local control of the police board, and he cautions that neither side “should appeal to historical precedent as a way of justifying their opinion” on the subject.
“This was absolutely about the Civil War, and nothing more,” he says. “No state was as divided as Missouri in the war, and no state had bloodier conflicts. It was very personal here.”...
...Today, the issues are different, but not always less racial. And over and over again, St. Louis is scorned by outstate citizens and their representatives for lacking “real” American, down-home, country, rural, and otherwise backwoods values.
Archibald did offer one profound observation that deserves special consideration today.
“There continues to be a split between St. Louis and the rest of the state, and in historical terms, I suspect it has its roots in the Civil War,” Archibald says. “I think the lack of a close relationship stems more from the war than from the typical urban-rural split that you see in other states.”
The Civil War past is distant in Missouri, but not dead."