PINE LAWN • The Board of Aldermen voted Friday night to disband the Pine Lawn Police Department and contract with the North County Police Cooperative for services.
The change is effective immediately. Officials cited financial concerns for the decision, but no details of the contract were released.
After a brief aldermanic meeting and vote, a locksmith arrived to change locks on the police department’s door and Pine Lawn officers left with their belongings. North County Police Cooperative officers showed up and went on patrol.
The police cooperative started last summer as an extension of the Vinita Park police. It also patrols Wellston, after that city disbanded its department, and Vinita Terrace. It took over Charlack in October.
It will be a fresh start for a city with a troubled history involving both elected officials and the police department.
Former Mayor Sylvester Caldwell was sent to prison last summer on corruption charges linked to bribery involving a towing company and a convenience store. In January, former Pine Lawn police Lt. Steven Blakeney was found guilty in federal court of conspiring with others to falsely arrest a mayoral candidate.
Pine Lawn officials had been meeting for months with other departments about the possibility of consolidation. The city has spoken with or received bids from Velda City, Northwoods, St. Louis County, Normandy and the North County Police Cooperative.
“It was the best of the offers that we had,” acting Mayor Adrian Wright said after the vote. “No one, to me, has questioned it. It was something that had to be done.”
Pine Lawn had eight full-time officers and about seven part-time ones; the cooperative will seek applications for 10 spots. The city has the option to get out of the contract after six months.
Tim Swope, chief of the cooperative, called the Pine Lawn department “notorious.”
He said his first move would be to have officers get out into the community and start meeting the residents they serve.
“This community needs to realize that the days of the police department versus the citizens it serves are long gone,” Swope said.
Starting pay for the cooperative’s officers is about $43,000, about $5,000 more than in Pine Lawn. Some former Pine Lawn officers already work for the cooperative, Swope pointed out.
Having experienced Pine Lawn officers in the ranks could be a positive for the cooperative, he said. “They know the community, people know them,” he said. “We can rely on their expertise.”
Pine Lawn Sgt. Willie Epps, the department’s acting police chief, planned to apply. Given the city’s financial issues, he knew the change was coming. “No one wants to work for free, because that’s where we were headed,” Epps said. “It’s a benefit for the city. It’s going to be a good venture.”
Only a handful of residents attended the meeting in Pine Lawn on Friday night, and at least three of them are running for mayor. No one was given the opportunity to speak publicly about the matter.
“Everyone should have known,” Wright said after the vote. “I’ve never had any feedback from anyone who has had any criticisms. We were elected to make the decisions.”
Resident Roslyn Brown, one of the mayoral candidates, is also the head of an oversight group called the Pine Lawn Coalition. She’s irritated the city hasn’t disclosed the terms of the contract with the cooperative, which officials said will be released after the city’s regular board meeting on Monday.
But Brown said officials with the cooperative have met with residents to talk about their services, and she thinks the switch is a positive one.
“I believe it’s a necessary change, with the excessive ticket writing and a lot of the bad neighborhood policing practices,” Brown said. “This department promises to change that.”
Said Swope after the Pine Lawn vote: “The sky’s the limit.”
Christine Byers of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.