A recent Eastern District of Missouri Court of Appeals ruling struck down an ordinance establishing new police standards in St. Louis County.
St. Louis County had enacted an ordinance authorizing the County Executive to impose countywide minimum police standards. However, the cities affected by that ordinance filed a petition to have it invalidated.
The trial court had ruled that the county had no authority to enact the ordinance. The Court of Appeals affirmed.
The reasoning was as follows: The Missouri Constitution provides that certain exercises of legislative authority be subject to a county-wide vote. At the same time, the state’s constitution also allows a county charter to authorize any action permitted by statute, including public health standards. The Court says standards of police conduct fall within public safety and not public health as public health is limited to preventing disease. Furthermore, the Court held that the county’s authority to legislate police conduct standards does not depend on the proposition that low standards harm residents.
The Court said: “The County’s reliance on information presented to the County Council as to the impact of this ordinance on public health does not aid its argument for how this was a valid exercise of authority under Section 192.300. The positive impact that improved law enforcement may have on the public – including the extent to which it improves the community’s physical and mental well-being – is simply not what was meant by “enhance public health” in Section 192.300. To hold otherwise would be to broaden the scope of authority beyond what the legislature intended by granting counties the power to make “additional health rules” in Section 192.300. Thus, this Ordinance was not a valid exercise of the County’s authority conferred by that statute.”