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15 September 2011

Rupp: History of the State-Run St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department

The First Extraordinary Session of the 96th General Assembly is well underway, and I’d like to use this opportunity to discuss one measure the Senate and House is considering — HB 1, which would allow the City of St. Louis to establish and maintain a municipal police force entirely under its own authority. Many have been calling this issue the “local control” matter.

Legislation that would have put the city in command of its police department was debated during the 2011 regular session, but ultimately, was not passed by the Legislature. The notion of a city-governed police department in St. Louis has been debated for years. Allow me to take you back to when it was decided to put the police force under state control.

The St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department (SLMPD) dates back to 1808 and began as a force of only four men. As the city grew over the years, the department expanded as well. According to the SLMPD website, St. Louis became the nation’s eighth largest city in 1861, with a population of 161,000. That year, it was decided by lawmakers that control of the police department would be supervised by a police board appointed by the governor.

It’s interesting to know that the Civil War played a big part in SLMPD history. The state of Missouri was much divided during the conflict — behind Virginia and Tennessee, it was the stage for the most battles fought during the war. It has been stated that, as a result of Missouri’s uncertain stance during the war, the state-controlled system for the SLMPD was designed for confederate sympathizers in Jefferson City to maintain control of St. Louis’ armaments. In a report published by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, then-Gov. Claiborne Jackson, who signed the state control bill, was a Southern sympathizer, and the General Assembly that passed the measure also leaned toward the Confederacy — the City of St. Louis leaned pro-Union.

Furthermore, the article states that, “Jackson and his allies believed controlling local law and order might help them in their plot to seize the federal arsenal in St. Louis. As it turned out, the move was unsuccessful and the city police — except for one, and possibly two Police Board members — weren't directly involved.”

The SLMPD still abides by the state-governed system today. Currently, the governor appoints four residents from St. Louis to the Board of Police Commissioners to oversee the SLMPD, and the city mayor fills the fifth spot. The only other city in the country whose police department is under state control is Kansas City.

According to the Missouri Constitution, the General Assembly is allowed to convene for 60 days when the governor calls a special session, so only time will tell if HB 1 will be passed by the General Assembly. To follow the happenings of our special session, please click on this link or visit the Missouri Senate website at and click on “Special Session Information” under the “Legislation” tab.

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