CLAYTON — St. Louis County Executive Sam Page told Mayor Lyda Krewson that he wants to assign 18 county police officers to patrol MetroLink in the city and for the county police to take over command of all security officers who work on the light-rail line.
It was the first specific proposal to be made public involving the county helping the city to reduce crime, although county police have already been patrolling MetroLink in the city for months as the city has struggled with manpower amid waves of violent crime.
And, as a new effort launches to study a possible merger between the city and county, the offer lays bare the jurisdictional differences that must be overcome. Over the past several days, Page and Krewson and their advisers made starkly different statements about whether the mayor had previously asked for the county’s help.
In discussing the offer over email, Page’s chief of staff, Winston Calvert, upbraided his counterpart in the city, Steve Conway, for not asking the county for help during a meeting last week among Page, Krewson, Gov. Mike Parson and other officials to discuss regional cooperation on reducing crime.
Krewson told a reporter on Friday that she asked the county earlier this year to provide 42 officers to her department on a contract basis, but “they have been unable to loan us any officers.”
But both Calvert and St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar said they knew nothing about such a request. Calvert said: “That may have been a deal that was cut with (former County Executive Steve) Stenger, but we’re not aware of a request for 42 police officers.”
Belmar said, “We’re unaware of that. I don’t recall that at all. I mean, at all.”
Krewson doubled down on Wednesday, saying that “back in March, Chief Belmar indicated the county had plenty of police officers and that they didn’t have any trouble recruiting officers.”
She said she suggested to Belmar and Stenger that the county “loan” officers to the city “if they had the additional officers to help us fill some of the vacancies.”
She said Belmar was at “one of the meetings and there were some subsequent conversations.”
In a brief phone interview later, Krewson said the meeting had been between her and Stenger and a group of “civic leaders” she would not identify, and that Belmar was present. She said part of her hope was that the number of county officers loaned to the city would ultimately double. Asked whether she had made a written request, Krewson said notes had been taken and had been put into writing, but would not clarify what that meant.
She said the subject never came up again after March, as the county soon became embroiled in a federal pay-to-play investigation that led to Stenger’s resignation on April 29 and guilty plea on May 3.
Asked why she thought Belmar had denied knowing about her request, she said, “County government has had a lot of changes lately. I’d just leave it at that.”
Belmar could not be reached later on Wednesday for a response.
Under Page’s proposal, outlined in his letter to Krewson on Sept. 12, the county would pay for the extra detail by withholding $2.4 million in funding for Bi-State. He urged her to accept the offer immediately, allowing the county police to begin patrolling the city’s portion of the light-rail line while the city and county hammer out a long-term contract within two weeks. The agreement would increase the county’s contribution to 62 police officers; the city provides eight.
The Post-Dispatch obtained the letter, and Krewson’s written response, from St. Louis County through a public-record request.
In a response to Page on Tuesday, Krewson wrote that she “wholeheartedly” endorsed the idea of the county adding police officers to the line and asked Page to “please assign a diverse group of officers.”
But she pushed back on bringing Bi-State’s 40 in-house security officers and 120 contract security officers under county police command, saying it was “inconsistent” with a previous agreement between St. Louis, St. Louis County, St. Clair County and Bi-State that put those officers under the city’s command.
“I have no objection to reconsidering the matter, but it is evident that both Bi-State and St. Clair County also need to be drawn into the discussion,” she wrote.
No they don’t, Calvert told Conway in an email on Wednesday.
“People in St. Louis County are ready for crime on the City side of MetroLink to get under control,” he wrote. “We’re not willing to wait for St. Clair County to discover a sense of urgency about crime on this side of the river.”
Calvert added that Belmar and county attorneys “had some trouble” getting a response from their counterparts in the city on Tuesday to put the Page plan in motion.
Calvert said that “we were surprised that the City did not request the County’s assistance” at a Sept. 10 meeting among Page, Krewson, Parson and other officials to discuss regional cooperation on reducing crime. but that “the County remains interested in assisting to reduce crime.” (Parson is scheduled to return to St. Louis on Thursday for a follow-up with local officials.)
Calvert’s shot at St. Clair County was a reference to ongoing beef between Page and St. Clair County Board Chairman Mark Kern. Page has railed against a change to Illinois law that will give St. Clair County one more member on the Bi-State Development board than St. Louis County has, even though St. Clair County pays about one-third of what St. Louis County pays for the transit system.
Asked for a reaction to Page’s plan on Wednesday, Kern said, “We’re elated that with election season around the corner, (Page) has finally woken up to crime issues on MetroLink. We look forward to sitting and working with him on any issues that he wishes to discuss, just as we did with his predecessors.”
Bi-State CEO Taulby Roach said on Wednesday that the letters between Page and Krewson were “great news.”
“I have two policymakers who are helping me to get to a solution to make things better on MetroLink,” he said. “Why wouldn’t I be for an additional (18) officers on my line? I think it’s fabulous.”
As for reassigning Metro’s security officers to the county, Roach said “those are logistical issues we need to discuss and see what’s the most effective.”
Page’s letter to Krewson said the county police officers would work at MetroLink stations and on the trains, and use marked county police cars to patrol near MetroLink stations. The officers would work with the city police department’s Public Transportation Unit and report to the multi-jurisdictional Task Force for operational issues and to the county police department for administrative issues.
He said all officers would “work cooperatively and in support of the City and the County, sharing and supporting the regional goal and mission” and may be “shared and assigned as needed” for emergencies or special events.
Page wrote that the mayor had shared with him concerns about the city’s declining number of police officers. “I understand your concerns over the City’s residency requirement, officer pay, and other factors that limit your ability to recruit and retain officers,” he wrote. And he pointed to a report in February from a security consultant that found jurisdictional boundaries constrain coverage “when one jurisdiction cannot provide adequate coverage.”
“I am hopeful that by working collaboratively, the City and County can identify potential solutions to these challenges as well as opportunities to coordinate recruitment and retention initiatives,” he wrote.
It wasn’t immediately clear if the county planned to hire 18 new officers or use existing resources. Although Krewson said Belmar had said he had no problem finding new recruits at the meeting in March, the chief has more recently said the opposite.
Just last week, he asked the county police board to relax its recruitment requirements to hire more officers, saying that interest in becoming a police officer was flagging.
Mark Schlinkmann of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.