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Stenger participates in first council meeting as county executive

St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger participates in the 2015 organizational meeting of the St. Louis County Council, Stenger's first meeting as county executive, on Tuesday, Jan. 6, 2015. Photo by Sid Hastings

CLAYTON • A judge has struck down a St. Louis County ordinance requiring police departments in 57 cities and towns to adhere to a set of minimum standards for the likes of use of force, vehicle pursuits and hiring requirements.

Circuit Judge Robert S. Cohen issued a summary judgment Wednesday in favor of a challenge by some of the county’s largest cities, such as Webster Groves, Kirkwood, Florissant, Hazelwood, Clayton, Creve Coeur and Richmond Heights, which complained the measure was “illegal and unconstitutional.”

County Executive Steve Stenger, who pressed for the law, said Thursday the county will appeal the decision.

“We will continue to fight to ensure that all county residents have equal access to consistent high-quality law enforcement no matter where they live or travel,” the county executive said in a written response.

St. Ann Alderman Amy Poelker said the ruling validates the arguments made by opponents prior to County Council passage of the bill in November.

Poelker and other critics contended the county blindsided municipalities with legislation intended to strip away local control of law enforcement procedures and standards.

The municipalities reiterated the contention in the legal challenge to the ordinance, accusing Stenger of refusing to “engage in collaborative and cooperative efforts to enhance police services countywide.”

“I’m very pleased,” Poelker said of the Cohen decision. “Stenger never consulted with St. Ann or anyone else. The decision was made long before it was brought to the public.”

Poelker is a Republican candidate for the 2nd District County Council seat.

Stenger maintains that minimum police standards are covered by a charter provision granting the county oversight of public health.

The judge, however, sided with the municipalities’ argument that the county executive “… is not even authorized to impose the standards of the ordinance on the St. Louis County Police Department as that power rests with the St. Louis County Superintendent of Police and the Board of Police Commissioners.”

Cohen’s order allows that “adherence to professional law enforcement standards benefits the community” but he also concluded that they do not fall under the “limited and defined” powers provided under the Missouri Constitution.

Other communities involved in challenges include St. Ann, Sunset Hills, Bel-Ridge, Edmundson, Frontenac, Olivette, Rock Hill and Breckenridge Hills.

Joel Currier of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.

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