St. Louis wants control of its police force back

Members of the St. Louis police and fire departments display a U.S. flag in center field on September 11, 2006 at Busch Stadium in St. Louis, Mo.

Bob Moon: Can you guess who's responsible for the St. Louis blues? Yeah, W.C. Handy composed the song, but that's not the answer we're looking for -- nor do we mean the hockey team by that name. We're talking the men and women in blue at the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department. The city is trying to go back in history, and reclaim control of its namesake law enforcement agency. You see, it's actually run by the state, and supporters claim that's "taxation without representation." First, though, voters have to approve a ballot initiative.

Here's St. Louis Public Radio's Julie Bierach.


Julie Bierach: This fight goes all the way back to the Civil War. In 1861, Missouri's Governor sympathized with the confederacy. So he took over control of the St. Louis police department. Today, it's still run by the state.

But St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay says it's time the city runs its own police department. He joked about the old law at a support rally last year.

Mayor Francis Slay: I will promise the Governor that if we get local control back to the people of St. Louis, we will not, we will not use our department against the Confederacy.

St. Louis spends about $145 million on the police department, that's about one-third of the city's operating budget.

Brooke Foster with the Safer Missouri Citizens Coalition, says residents pay taxes but don't have a say over the police. Her organization is collecting signatures to take the issue to voters in November.

Brooke Foster: It just makes common sense to give the people of St. Louis control of their own police department. Particularly since this is something that is just so outdated, it's been on the books for 150 years.

Efforts to change the law have failed numerous times in the Missouri legislature. But supporters are confident that 2012 is the year St. Louis gets control of its police department.

In St. Louis, I'm Julie Bierach for Marketplace.

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