Deal for Local Control of St. Louis Police Flies in Face of Conventional Logic

Local Control, the movie.
Local Control, the movie.
St. Louis City Hall and the St. Louis Police Officers Association announced yesterday that they've struck a deal that could return control of the department back to the city for the first time in 150 years.

In doing so, the city bucked a nationwide trend by guaranteeing St. Louis police officers the right to bargain collectively for wages and benefits. In recent months Wisconsin, Indiana, Nebraska and several other states have all passed or considered legislation to prohibit public employees from collective bargaining. Last week, Detroit warned its teachers union that it could drop its collective-bargaining agreement.

In all those instances the rationale is the same: Cash-strapped governments can no longer afford the generous benefits and guaranteed pensions that come through collective bargaining.

Apparently, though, St. Louis doesn't have those same problems. Never mind that $10 million budget deficit.

In the past, Mayor Francis Slay has been a frequent critic of runaway pension costs for the city's fire department and police pensions. Last month the city threatened to terminate the jobs of 30 fire fighters in anticipation of having to pay $4.7 million this coming fiscal year to make up for losses in their pension. This year the city will have to spend $2.5 million to plug shortcomings in the police department's pension.

Meanwhile, for police officers, it's like the Great Recession never happened. Officers can still retire after 20 years of service (or age 55, whichever occurs first) and receive full retirement benefits for life. How many of you in the private sector would enjoy that kind of sweetheart deal?

That said, it make no sense (and, yes, less cents) for the city to guarantee collective bargaining under its new deal to regain local control over the cops. Yet in his blog yesterday, Mayor Slay stated that he's unconcerned about the collective-bargaining angle.

"Collective bargaining is much more than haggling over pay and working conditions," wrote Slay. "If done in good faith, it represents a partnership that will improve morale among officers, improve the effectiveness of the department, and result in safer city neighborhoods."

The key words there, of course, are "done in good faith." But can you really expect such good faith from a police union that's done everything it can to scuttle local control, from making up outrageous stories about city aldermen planning to raid the police pension fund and -- worse still -- stoking racial prejudices?  I don't think so.

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