ST. LOUIS • Do not call today’s press conference a campaign kickoff.
City leaders have been trying to regain control of the city police department for years. They have campaigned. They have lobbied legislators. They have worked to educate voters.
This year’s effort has no kickoff.
Instead, it has eight field staffers, already organizing community meetings from the Kansas border to the Bootheel. It has widespread support among city leaders. And it has a gaggle of state legislators, meeting today to stand behind the November proposition.
“I’ve been dealing with local control for the last three years,” said Jamilah Nasheed, one of the measure’s longtime champions. “People have been talking about it for 40 years.”
Since the Civil War, the governor has appointed four of the five police commissioners who govern the police department. The city pays the bills, but the mayor, as the board’s fifth commissioner, is the only city official with any direct say in how the department is run.
Mayor Francis Slay and his staff have been working for years to convert the department into a city-run unit, housed under the Public Safety Department.
Last year, an effort in the state legislature nearly passed, but got held up in a special session, for unrelated reasons. When that failed, financier Rex Sinquefield agreed to support an initiative petition.
Brooke Foster, deputy director for the campaign, dubbed A Safer Missouri, said the group needed 120,000 signatures to get the measure on the statewide ballot this fall, and got 180,000.
Sinquefield has bankrolled the effort so far. Still, Foster said, don’t count on fancy television ads. This campaign, she said, is about education. Every big city in the country, outside of St. Louis and Kansas City, controls its police force, she said. Moreover, the group estimates the combination of police and city administration should save $4 million a year.
“It’s really a common sense issue,” Foster said. “It’s the kind of issue where, the first time you explain it to people, they get it.”
St. Louis should have the right that every other city has, said Nasheed, who will speak at this morning’s Jefferson City press conference, which should have a few dozen legislators joining in.
“If we’re going to spend dollars to make sure that we have a police department that works in the City of St. Louis,” she said, “we should control it.”