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New St. Charles County Police Department

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In August, the St Charles County Council voted 4 to 2 to allow voters to decide if a new St. Charles County Police Department should be created to serve our St. Charles County residents. This measure would require an amendment to the St. Charles County Charter and will require voter approval on Nov 6th.

In a few simple words, this is a bad idea.

Why?

First, creating a County Police Department in this time of economic distress is simply not feasible; generating increased spending by creating two administrations to replace a single administration within the Sheriff’s Department.  The County already spends over $12 million annually to run the Sheriff’s Department.  That doesn’t include various Federal grants and drug seizure money that the Sheriff’s Department receives to sustain certain special operations within the Sheriff’s Department. If this charter amendment were to be approved by voters, law enforcement, civil process, court security, and court bailiffs would then be working under two sizeable annual budgets, rather than one.  How would this evolution preserve hard earned St. Charles County taxpayer dollars?  For Sheriff Neer to say that a captain’s position would be eliminated to fund an appointed police chief only exemplifies his mastery at playing a smoke and mirrors trick on the voters of St. Charles County.  Costs of administration and operations would rise significantly by funding two separate departments instead of one.  By state statute, even if a new Police Department were created, the Sheriff’s Department would continue to operate for the purposes of civil process, court security, and bailiff services.

Second, removing yet another elected position in St. Charles County Government further strips our county residents and taxpayers of the power to exercise their due discretion at the ballot box.  Following County Executive Steve Ehlmann’s logic, why don’t we just make all of the County offices appointed, including his?  Given the power to appoint a police chief, the County Executive gains substantially more control and power.  Appointing a police chief who works at the pleasure of the County Executive would lead to more “politics as usual”, not less. As with the federal government, it is within the taxpayer’s best interest to maintain a delicate balance of powers between the Executive, Legislative, and Judicial branches of government.  It is essential that these powers not be substantially leveraged to one branch.

Further, allowing the County Executive to appoint the police chief would only lead to additional political cronyism. Too much power vested in the hands of one official, and too little power vested in the hands of the St. Charles County voters and tax payers is a dangerous proposition.  Philosophically, St. Charles County taxpayers have been led to believe that they elected fiscally conservative executive and legislative branches, who collectively value smaller government and less governmental spending.  Judging by decisions we have seen transpire during Sheriff Neer’s and County Executive Ehlmann’s terms, nothing could be further from the truth.  What we are seeing is a proposition to expand government and create bigger budgets in a time of economic strife.

But most importantly, our St. Charles County officials need to abandon the mindset that, “If it’s good for St. Louis County, then it’s good for St. Charles County”.  Demographically, St. Louis County and St. Charles County are vastly different. St. Louis County is a patchwork of tiny municipalities, often requiring ongoing oversight and assistance from a countywide police force.  In St. Charles County, much of the population is centered in 5 or 6 larger cities, all of which are quite capable of supporting full service law enforcement operations. The St. Charles County Sheriff’s Department primarily patrols unincorporated areas of the county and contracts its patrol to a handful of smaller municipalities.

Just what enhanced or new services should St. Charles County taxpayers expect to receive under a new county police department? None. The St. Charles County Sheriff’s Department already provides special operations, such as SWAT, bomb, emergency management and advanced forensic services under its current structure.  What would be gained other than a new name and costly administrative expenses by creating a new police department?  Nothing.

St. Charles County taxpayers, please read between the lines.  This proposal translates into a tremendously costly power grab by the County Executive’s office, and most definitively, an underhanded tactic to strip a critically important decision making process away from the St. Charles County voters. 

Our St. Charles County taxpayers and voters already soundly defeated this costly measure once in 1993.

In this time of economic uncertainty, it is absolutely not the time to consider such a costly venture.  I urge you to resoundingly defeat this ill-conceived proposal to create a St. Charles County Police Department.

Vote NO on November 6th!

Respectfully,

Rodney C. Zerr

(Former) Division Director,

Division of Emergency Management

St. Charles County Sheriff’s Department

St. Peters, MO