Although the Better Together report underwent several years of analysis of the St. Louis city and the North County areas, some of its conclusions are debatable. In theory the conclusions sound positive and something that could be a major benefit primarily to the city of St. Louis, not necessarily to North St. Louis County.
Of course, we all want a prosperous and thriving St. Louis city, but not at the expense of some of the other areas.
After listening to and reading about this proposal, some major issues have been brought to the forefront. In a democracy, allowing the whole state to make the decision as to whether this merger occurs between two areas seems to be undemocratic.
One major concern is that the city and county should have the sole right to determine how citizens of these two areas feel about a possible merger. In fact, in order for the whole state to vote for this proposal, the constitution would have to be changed. In the meantime, the city of Chesterfield has already expressed an interest in joining St. Charles County. Further, it does not seem that a major change of this nature should be approved statewide, but it should be by the vote of the two parties concerned. They should make the decision as to whether they want to become one.
The premise that a successful merger would be beneficial to both communities is another major concern. The conclusion that it would improve police service and reduce crime is not supported by the facts. I taught sociology, criminal justice and police community relations for more than 30 years at Lewis and Clark Community College and Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville. I found that this does not hold up under the experiences elsewhere.
In fact, with one large police force, crime is likely to increase, especially in the county. A large police force tends to become more impersonal and have less support from the community as a whole. In order to have more control of crime, the police and community need to have more trust and respect for one another. This can be achieved more effectively when the police have more positive contact with members in the community. This is also true when the police tend to come to know and relate to individuals in the community.
Another issue of concern is that “white flight” would occur. That is, longtime residents tend to flee to areas where there is less diversity. One example that still applies in North St. Louis County occurred in the 1990s, when many city residents moved to North County and many longtime residents fled to St. Charles and beyond due to the concern for the future of North County.
This was the reason North County Churches Uniting for Racial Harmony and Justice was organized. Many of our churches were losing longtime members because of their concern for their welfare and for that of their children. Also when flight occurs, businesses tend to follow. If you take a tour of St. Charles County, you will find many of the businesses that were located in North County prior to this occurrence. Many of the Caucasian churches have declined significantly in membership, and a number have closed or merged with others churches. This can also affect the schools. Due to “white flight,” our schools in North County have become approximately 80 percent African-American and even higher in some districts.
As much as we would like to help the city flourish, we do not need to destroy a settled and stable major community.
Rance Thomas is a professor emeritus of sociology/criminal justice, and co-founder and president of North County Churches Uniting for Racial Harmony and Justice.