St. Louis, MO – The St. Louis mayor and comptroller are pushing to defund the city’s police budget by $4 million and to eliminate nearly 100 vacant officer positions.
St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones, who has been in office for just nine days, voted for the proposed plan alongside the city’s comptroller, Darlene Green, during a meeting of the Board of Estimate and Apportionment on April 29, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.
The board ultimately voted 2-1 to defund the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department (SLMPD) and to move those $4 million in funds to provide more housing, civil rights litigators, homeless services, and to establish a victims’ support program, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
The dissenter was Board of Aldermen President Lewis Reed.
Jones touted the plan as a way to “address the root causes of crime and support the victims of crime as well as those who have been underserved and underrepresented,” according to the paper.
The SLMPD cuts include over $3 million in benefits and salaries that were supposed to go towards 67 officers, 25 sergeants, and six lieutenants, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.
Jones said those 98 positions have all been vacant for 12 years or more.
No current officers will lose their jobs as a result of the proposed defunding, the mayor said.
The SLMPD is supposed to have 1,349 sworn personnel under the current budget, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.
It was already down approximately 160 officers prior to the proposal, but the department had been using the funds allocated for the vacant positions to cover booming overtime costs.
Protests also have a major impact on the increased need for overtime.
The department won’t be able to keep as many officers on the streets if the plan goes into effect because they simply won’t have the funds to pay them, St. Louis Budget Director Paul Payne warned the Board of Estimate and Apportionment last week.
The SLMPD “will need to reduce actual overtime because they will not have that leeway to spend going forward,” Payne explained.
SLMPD Chief John Hayden said the defunding won’t affect the department’s current operations because he hasn’t been able to find people to fill those positions for the past three years anyway, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.
“We desperately need more officers and we need them now,” the chief told the Missouri Legislature late last summer.
He’s lost at least 20 more officers since then, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.
It is unclear what impact Chief Hayden sees the budget cut having on overtime funds.
The plan approved by Jones and Green came approximately one week after police defunding groups addressed the board to demand the city cut the vacant police positions, the St. Louis Post Dispatch reported.
They also told the board to make cuts to gunshot detection programs, surveillance details, and SWAT, according to the paper.
The St. Louis Ethical Society of Police, a union representing primarily black and minority SLMPD officers, said the cuts are the last thing the city’s overworked police force needs in the midst of a soaring homicide rate, which reached historic levels last year, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.
“St. Louis city has a ‘right now problem’ relative to violent crime, so any measure that does not include adequate police staffing is misguided,” the union said in a statement prior to the board’s decision. “The imbalance between the number of calls for service in the busiest districts to the number of officers assigned leaves little time for proactive patrols and community building.”
St. Louis has become one of the most violent per capita cities on the planet, The Blaze reported.
Jones blamed the surge on the way prior administrations allocated funds.
“For many years the budget has not supported the needs of the people and that’s why we’re seeing record numbers of homicides and other acts of violence,” the mayor told the Riverfront Times in a statement. “What we’ve been doing doesn’t work. This revised budget will start St. Louis on a new path to tackling some of the root causes of crime.”
U.S. Representative Cori Bush (D-Missouri) praised the proposal, calling it a “historic” move.
“For decades, our city funneled more and more money into our police department under the guise of public safety, while massively underinvesting in the resources that will truly keep our communities safe,” Bush declared in a statement on Thursday.
“The people have demanded a new approach to community safety — and from the Mayor’s office to the Halls of Congress, we were elected to deliver one,” she continued. “We have a mandate to fully fund our social services. To invest in our communities, not criminalize them. To end police violence. To provide alternatives to police like unarmed mental health professionals or social workers to respond to crisis calls. That is what organizers in our communities have fought for, that is what St. Louis has demanded, and that is what we, as elected officials, promised St. Louis.”
Bush said she is “incredibly proud” Jones endorsed the proposal to defund the SLMPD.
“Today’s decision to defund the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department is historic,” the congresswoman wrote. “It marks a new future for our city.”
The $1.15 billion city spending plan will now head to the aldermen for hearings and potential amendments before it goes into effect at the beginning of the new fiscal year on July 1, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.