Should County Sheriff's Department Change to a Police Department?
St. Charles County approved a bill to ask voters whether the county Sheriff's Department should switch to a Police Department with an appointed police chief.
St. Charles County could have both an elected sheriff and an appointed chief of police in the future.
The St. Charles County Council voted Monday to put the issue on the November ballot and let voters decide whether to establish a county police department which would be responsible for law enforcement duties in the county.
Under the proposal, the St. Charles County Sheriff's Department would remain in charge of court services, prisoner transport, process serving.
Council members John White, Terry Hollander, Joe Cronin and Nancy voted in favor of putting the matter before the voters. Council members Joe Brazil and Jerry Daugherty voted against the bill.
County Executive Steve Ehlmann said he would sign the bill putting it before voters.
"When there's an opportunity for the public to vote on an issue, I think you folks have the right to vote on this," White said to the audience Monday night.
Sheriff Tom Neer said his main purpose in suggesting the change is to ensure a qualified person is running law enforcement in St. Charles County. The appointed police chief would have to have 15 years of law enforcement experience, six years of management experience and a college degree.
To run for sheriff, a candidate must be a registered voter who has lived in the county for at least two years, at least 21 and free of felony convictions.
Former St. Peters Police Chief Ron Neubauer said right now a popular person could go through the police academy and be elected, although he or she had little to no law enforcement experience.
"It's something I honestly believe will give you a person with experience," he said. "Law enforcement today is technical, it's not like it was 20 years ago."
Neer said the cost to change the logos on the department cars, the stationery, uniforms and other would be about $100,000 and would come from asset recovery funds. Funding for the new police chief's salary would come from getting rid of one captain's position after one retires in 2014.
Opponents questioned the true cost to convert to a police department. AC Dienoff, a candidate for State Representative, asked the council how they could vote on the issue without knowing the true cost to make the change.
"In my opinion, this is a power grab and we as citizens will not stand for it," he said.
In the St. Louis area, St. Louis County is the only other county law enforcement agency that has a police department. There are about 32 urban counties with police departments rather than sheriff's departments, according to St. Louis Police Chief Tim Fitch.
Councilman Joe Brazil said the people in district are opposed to not being able to elect a sheriff.
"I don't think people in St. Charles County are too stupid to make the right choice for sheriff," Brazil said.
Councilman Jerry Daugherty also opposed the bill. He said the information was not presented in a timely fashion.