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Map: Flordell Hills

FLORDELL HILLS • It didn’t take long for the new Flordell Hills police department to hit its first speed bump.

One of the six officers hired to patrol this tiny town is off the job already, charged with stealing prescription drugs from the evidence room — making Wednesday a rough official first day for the newly formed police force.

According to St. Louis County prosecutors, Officer Jeremy Quate admitted taking alprazolam, a controlled substance used to treat anxiety and panic disorders, from an evidence safe on Friday.

The theft came to light after Quate was in a one-car crash Saturday on-duty in his department vehicle. He was taken to a hospital, where the alprazolam was found in his possession.

Quate, 31, was charged Tuesday with stealing and possessing a controlled substance, both felonies. He has resigned from the department. St. Louis County police have taken over the investigation.

“We had a flaw. We have corrected it. This will not happen again,” said the new police chief and former city marshal, Dennis Oglesby Sr., after charges were announced Wednesday.

A Post-Dispatch photographer rode on patrol with Quate last month as the department began the transition of taking over its policing from neighboring Country Club Hills. The contract with Country Club Hills ended at midnight Tuesday.

St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch has been an opponent of tiny police forces. “I said when Flordell Hills announced they were forming a police department that it was probably the worst idea I’ve heard in years,” he said Wednesday.

“They can’t afford a police department, they can’t afford to provide proper police services to their residents,” he continued. “This just sort of demonstrates that. Clearly this guy wasn’t vetted very well by the hiring authority. Not just stealing, but then using, then wrecking the city police car? I hope this will be the impetus for the Flordell Hills (leaders) to reconsider their idea of having their own police department.”

News of the rocky start prompted a Twitter response from retired St. Louis County police chief Tim Fitch, who shares McCulloch’s view.

“You can’t make this stuff up,” Fitch tweeted on Wednesday. In reference to Flordell Hills’ new department, he added, “nothing good will come of this.”

Flordell Hills has 822 residents living on about a dozen streets in less than a square mile. It is now the 58th police force for the mosaic of 90 municipalities that make up St. Louis County. More than a third of the county’s population is covered directly by the county police, as residents in unincorporated areas or communities that contract with the county.

Fitch and others have suggested the move is driven by a desire to raise more revenue through traffic stops.

Last year, more than 40 percent of the town’s revenue came from its municipal court, according to a study by Better Together, a nonprofit group that is looking at how the region can be more efficiently organized.

A Post-Dispatch study found that Flordell Hills issued the equivalent of about two traffic tickets per resident last year and just a slightly lower number of nontraffic citations.

The city is a sort of island surrounded by Jennings, from which it once contracted for police services. A scandal prompted Jennings to dissolve its force and contract with the county in 2011.

Flordell Hills had also considered such a contract but went to Country Club Hills instead after county police refused to continue to operate its speed cameras. Fitch was a critic of the cameras, calling them a money grab that didn’t do much for safety.

Oglesby disputes claims that the recent takeover was driven by anything other than a desire to provide better policing.

He told the Post-Dispatch last month that having the new department would help keep costs even — the contract with County Club Hills kept going up in price — and allow for more personalized services. He said residents had complained they didn’t see Country Club Hills officers on patrol often enough.

Quate, of the 1400 block of Bel Aire Drive in Belleville, was an officer in Hillsdale for about a year prior to joining Flordell Hills, and was in Pine Lawn before that, according to Oglesby.

“A background check was done, he checked out, and nobody gave him any bad references,” he said.

He characterized this as an isolated incident.

Quate was in the news earlier this year when KSDK-TV, Channel 5 reported that he was not able to obtain an Illinois Firearm Owner Identification card to possess a weapon in his home state because he was convicted as a juvenile of burglarizing a Belleville residence.

Oglesby said the juvenile charge did not show up in the background check and he only became aware of it on Tuesday. If it was adjudicated in juvenile court, it would not affect Quate’s ability to be a licensed police officer in Missouri, according to a spokesman for the state Department of Public Safety.

Roger Goldman, a St. Louis University law professor and expert on police licensing, noted the long and unflattering history of county municipal police hiring.

“Who else can work for them for what they pay?” he asked rhetorically. “That is just one reason why you want St. Louis County police taking over these services.”

Post-Dispatch reporter Walker Moskop contributed to this article.

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