New bill seeks to consolidate small police departments

Jefferson City has become the showdown which will likely determine the fate of small town police departments in St. Louis County.

Politicians in Missouri’s state capital have proposed a bill in the House to merge municipalities with fewer than 5,000 residents and spanning no more than two square miles. The cities would be expected to merge within five years.  If they do not merge, then they will be expected to contract with the St. Louis County police force for law enforcement.

Altogether, there are almost 24 police departments that would be required to combine with neighboring cities or have to pay St. Louis County for its policing services.

The proposal is designed to address concerns that small cities may have been relying upon questionable traffic related tickets to generate revenue.  This policy of generating revenue from excessive ticketing came to light in the aftermath of the shooting of Michael Brown resulting in rioting and discontent in Ferguson, Missouri,  and the North County region of St. Louis County.

Many of these small municipalities have not achieved accreditation for their police force.  Often police officers who were not a good fit for larger cities of the County would seek law enforcement jobs with the small North County cities.

Several small municipal police departments have already consolidated.  Nearly 12 or so have contracts with St. Louis County.   And seven other cities have merged to form the North County Police Cooperative.

Critics of the proposal have concerns about how the legislation would impact departments’ emergency response and communication between municipalities.  The legislation is House Bill 81.

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