St. Louis leaders look into freezing police officer positions
The idea of deriving the funding from the police department came up during the meeting of the appraisal and apportionment committee
ST. LOUIS – How much money could the city divert to social aid programs to eradicate the root causes of crime by removing the 150 or so vacant police officer positions from the city budget?
That is a question the Appraisal and Apportionment Committee put to Budget Director Paul Payne to investigate during its meeting on Friday.
The board includes Mayor Tishaura Jones, the board of Alderman President Lewis Reed and Comptroller Darlene Green.
About 40 people spoke publicly during the two-hour meeting, including many calling for the entire police budget to be removed.
A woman who said she would continue to fund the police department would continue to fund “state-sanctioned murder.”
Several other people suggested getting rid of the department’s audio detection equipment known as Shotspotter System, the SWAT team, and the Real Time Crime Center, which are tracking hundreds of surveillance cameras across the city and other intelligence measures.
St. Louis resident Emilia Hinckley told the board that St. Louis police officers were “incompetent and brutal failures” who “routinely fail” and are “one of the deadliest police stations in the country.”
“They will continue to murder residents with impunity,” she said.
Green read several other names of residents who had submitted written comments.
“After hearing the comments, I intend to make a definitive recommendation to the rest of the Appraisal and Apportionment Committee members to consider significant reductions in police positions that have been vacant for several years,” said Green.
She also recommended increasing funding for the Affordable Housing Trust as well as more mental health workers.
“This is our time, this is the place, and so I don’t want us to miss the moment to make it clear that we are going to do it,” she said. “Reducing police positions, which have been vacant for several years, can help inspire the increases I speak of so we can move this community and neighborhoods across the city forward.”
She continued, “We understand the church’s call to see what we are up to and how to reuse what we call public service.”
Jones replied, “Agreed, I look forward to working with you on these amendments.”
Reed went no further than calling the meeting “one of the most productive community engagement sessions we’ve had” since joining the board.
Police Chief John Hayden has spoken out in favor of filling the vacant positions and supported the abolition of the residence requirements in the hope of attracting more recruits.
His spokesman, Sgt. Keith Barrett, said Hayden was unavailable for an interview on Friday about the Board of Estimation and Apportionment meeting and had not made a statement on the matter.
The board’s discussion enraged the leaders of the St. Louis Police Officer Association, who said eliminating the vacant positions would clear the pool of money the department used to pay officers overtime due to the officer shortage.
“If you take away our ability to hire new officers and work overtime, we are seriously concerned that emergency calls can be answered,” said Jane Deuker, lawyer for the police union. “People talk about the number of officers, how much money there is, (but) what to focus on is the number of times the police have been called on by the citizens of St. Louis.”
Deuker said the St. Louis Police Department responded to more than 500,000 service requests in 2019 alone.
“What citizens need should be what drives this debate, not arbitrary budget numbers,” she said. “If 911 calls are to be answered half a million times a year, what does it take to keep people safe in this city?
“If you lose weight and defuse in the way they suggest, you will not only make citizens unsafe, but you will also impede the safety of our officials.”
Green spokesman Tyson Pruitt said it was “premature” to say the vacancies will be eliminated.
The Board of Estimation and Apportionment has one more meeting before its budget proposal is submitted to the Board of Aldermen, where it is submitted for final approval.