St. Louis Sheriff Vernon Betts talks to protesters during a protest over police shootings on Monday, Aug. 7, 2017, in front of the Mel Carnahan Courthouse in downtown St. Louis. Betts was trying to defuse the anger of the protest. Photo by J.B. Forbes.
Sheriff’s offices throughout the state operate as the county law enforcement agency, policing outside of municipalities and running the jails and enforcing the courts. There are 115 Missouri sheriffs, 114 of whom are elected. Due to our unique governmental arrangement, the city elects a sheriff, but this office does not police the streets of St. Louis.
The responsibility of this office is to transport and guard prisoners, act as courtroom bailiffs, protect the courts, and serve summons and body attachments. Our office is the largest sheriff’s office in the state. We transport and guard more, and arguably the most dangerous, prisoners in the state.
Due to our unique government structure here in St. Louis, the requirements of only this sheriff’s office have differed from the rest of the state. This has left the city in a legally gray territory, and a sheriff’s office that, in unfairness to city residents, does not meet the same professional standard of every other sheriff’s office throughout the state.
With the support of the mayor, the majority of the city legislative delegation and the Missouri Sheriffs’ Association, I am attempting to give the citizens of St. Louis the sheriff’s office they deserve.
I am doing this for a multitude of reasons; first, it’s an issue of fairness and professionalism. The citizens of St. Louis deserve to have deputies who meet this basic law enforcement standard. Every single sheriff and sheriff’s office in Missouri is required to meet Peace Officer Standards and Training certification, except St. Louis city.
I campaigned and was elected on a platform of reforming and increasing the professionalism of the department. I am personally going through POST certification to set an example for my deputies. And I want to stand by my deputies who deserve to be treated as the law enforcement professionals they are.
Sheriff’s deputies face possible assault and altercations every day in the line of duty. With the exception of patrolling streets, our deputies perform the same duties and tasks as any other deputy throughout the state. Since the department is not currently certified, an assault on a city deputy is not considered assault on a law enforcement official. If anyone assaulted any other deputy in Missouri, performing the exact same tasks, it would be treated as assault on a law enforcement official. This is not fair to my deputies and must be fixed.
Second, operating a department that does not meet this training standard creates a tremendous liability for the city of St. Louis. Without proper certification, any incident where a deputy or other person is injured could result in much higher legal liabilities and ramifications for the city and ultimately the taxpayers. The group Better Together found: “Accreditation is not cost-prohibitive and, in fact, carries financial benefits to certified departments.”
Third, as soon as this department is certified, I can apply for federal and state grants to help offset operations, equipment and additional training costs. Our city is facing a possible $10 million budget shortfall for the next fiscal year, and I want to do my part to help close that gap by seeking other sources of funding.
The new police chief recently stated that one of his biggest challenges is recruiting an additional 150 officers. I have 150 men and women who are ready to take on more responsibility. The sheriff’s department could perform more auxiliary functions and duties to free up more police department officers to be out on the streets.
Also, I want to address fears aired by some about “two police departments.” The mission of the sheriff’s office is not changing. We are not changing the section of state law that designates the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department as the agency that is responsible for enforcing the criminal code. I am not attempting to, nor do I have the power, funding, vehicles and equipment to order my deputies to patrol the streets answering emergency calls. But amid the record-level violence haunting our city, having more highly trained law enforcement officials in St. Louis can’t hurt.
St. Louis Today