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Friday, March 27, 2015

[OPINION] Disbanding the Ferguson Police Department: What Residents Can Expect

Posted By on Fri, Mar 27, 2015 at 3:00 PM

click to enlarge JESSICA LUSSENHOP
  • Jessica Lussenhop

Glenn Rogers worked as a police officer in six St. Louis County municipalities. He was a Missouri post certified officer for 22 years. He has been appointed to numerous special police assignments.

Should Ferguson's city council decide that the city has had enough and decide to dismantle the police department, here are some of the changes that I think will happen.

As most people already know, the No. 1 candidate to take over the job would be the St. Louis County Police Department, as it has in other cities like Velda Village Hills, Wellston, Dellwood, Fenton and Jennings.

I believe that in light of the U.S. Department of Justice report on Ferguson, the changes that are being demanded of the Ferguson court and police department -- and the upcoming civil lawsuit that will be filed by the Michael Brown family -- it will only be a matter of time before the city realizes that the police department is a lame duck and contracts out for those services.

Here's why I think this is a good thing for the city of Ferguson, and what residents could expect next.

click to enlarge Glenn Rogers
  • Glenn Rogers

Now that there are limits on the amount of revenue that Missouri cities can retain from traffic and court related fines, I think that the balance sheet will show that it is more fiscally responsible to dump the extra financial burden of maintaining a local police department. Contracting with St. Louis County will radically reduce the amount of Ferguson's expenditures relating to police services. Consequently, the city's revenues will be more effectively budgeted, which could also help the city to build a financial surplus against any future and ongoing lawsuits.

Now, let's take a look at how things will probably change for the residents of the City of Ferguson, as it pertains to policing. It has been my experience that for those areas that contract with St. Louis County, there are some unexpected surprises, both positive and negative.

Here are a few of the complaints that I have heard from residents of areas, who had their own municipal police services and later contracted out to St. Louis County.

1. Police response times It appears that St. Louis County may have gotten smarter in their dealings with municipal takeovers and will make certain that in the initial transition months, response to calls for service will be answered about as quickly as the municipal policing agency was previously. However, this is a very difficult task for several reasons. One reason is that St. Louis County's responding patrol cars may be much farther away than the municipal police cars would have been located. However, the utilization of the previous police department, as a substation, helps to lower response times tremendously.

2. Ferguson's city council members and mayor will not have the same authority to harass dissident citizens. In my experience, St. Louis County police officers normally will not get involved in municipal pettiness. This will certainly be a plus for the residents of Ferguson and a loss of apparent power by the city council and mayor.

3. Residents will probably notice a tremendous reduction in the number of written municipal traffic violations. Historically, St. Louis County officers haven't been known to put emphasis on traffic violations. On the contrary, they have been known to witness minor violations and simply ignore them. One of the reasons is that their jurisdiction is so broad that they want to be able to respond to important calls and not to be found busy inventorying a vehicle or waiting for a tow truck.

4. As it pertains to criminal investigations for the major crimes, things will probably not be appreciably different. But for things such as stolen lawn mowers, property damage and relatively minor offenses, residents may find that St. Louis County's officers may "N.R.N." a call (which means "no report necessary") on incidents that the previous municipal officers might have written a report for. This, again, is due to a different set of priorities for officers' time.

5. Residents may find that St. Louis County's police officers are less interested in pulling them over or stopping them for a minor offense. This seemingly nonchalant attitude toward minor offenses has been an issue of dissatisfaction for some residents. Sometimes, what's considered minor to the police officer (who's in a hurry to be free for calls) is a major concern to the resident.

6. Fewer patrol cars driving around the neighborhood. There are also numerous reports that residents, who live in areas that have St. Louis County as their newly acquired police agency, complain about the lack of visible patrol cars, as compared to their previous department.

7. Former municipal officers may be rehired. As far as the terminated police officers are concerned, St. Louis County will probably make an agreement to hire as many of them as possible. That said, a thorough review will be conducted of each officer's personnel file to see if there are any pending liabilities or habits of questionable policing.

8. The Ferguson jail could be used as a temporary holdover, or the city council may contract with other municipalities to retain prisoners. This would be a relatively smart decision because housing prisoners is expensive, and Ferguson's jail is in relatively good condition, compared to some of the other municipalities. For many years, housing prisoners was a major source of revenue for Kinloch.

I believe that it is inevitable that the Ferguson Police Department will dismantle. It is facing a perfect storm the likes of which no other local department has faced. I also see a similar future for other municipalities in the St. Louis region -- with the new limits on the amount of money municipalities can collect from traffic violations, eventually, most municipalities within St. Louis County's jurisdiction will contract with St. Louis County for police services, and some will unincorporate, due to lack of revenue.

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